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My favourite travelogue is without a doubt Charles Dickens’ sparkling American Notes for General Circulation. I read it when I was a student in London. My graduate programme at the University College London was on Anglo-American Literature. We had to read a lot of novels that were written by Americans, but which were set in London. We had to read plenty memoirs and essays as well. More often than not, these explored the relationship between England and America through the ages. Some of my other favourite travelogues come from that. I don’t know whether Dickens’ account of America is widely read or not, but it’s a hilarious account, and quite wonderful. He is disdainful and baffled in turn, and also exhausted by all the adulation. It was obviously written a long time ago, but what’s fascinating is the extent to which Dickens’ observations about America still hold true. There are such wonderful details in it — he eats steak and he can’t understand why there’s so much pepper on it! It’s full of funny observations like that, and great characters.
Joanna Rakoff is an award-winning author, columnist and publisher whose latest book is My Salinger Year.
(As told to Shreya Ila Anasuya)
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