Pin It

The Best American Travel Writing 2007 

The Best American Travel Writing 2007, by Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean has turned out the best of The Best. In her introduction to this year's compilation, Orlean, a staff writer for The New Yorker, writes that her only two criteria for selecting the year's best travel pieces were that "one, the stories had to take place somewhere in the physical world, and two, I had to like them a lot." She goes on, though, to explain that the real magic of travel is that "you become a conduit through which the sensation of the place is felt." Though one of her selected stories doesn't actually fit in the physical world, the rest meet her criteria beautifully.

In "Hutong Karma," New Yorker China correspondent Peter Hessler lovingly introduces us to his neighbors in one of the last back-alley communities of Beijing. In Reesa Grushka's "Arieh" we meet a blind, self-styled prophet in Jerusalem. "Lost in America" follows a messed-up fat guy trying to walk across America without becoming a hero. Real hero Nando Parrado recalls the 72 days he spent in the fuselage of a crashed plane in the Andes, slowly turning to cannibalism (this was the subject of the 1974 book Alive). Parrado could have an interesting conversation with Ian Frazier, who examines travel writing's love of intestinal distress in "A Kielbasa Too Far."

There are a few stinkers here (Rick Bass' meditations on the American West and Elizabeth Gilbert's peripatetic feast through France both grow tedious), but the remainder almost pop with the energy of the places and people they're describing.

Easily the best entry, though, is "High in Hell," a riveting piece by Kevin Fedarko, which follows a crop of khat (a plant with druggy, stimulating qualities) at breakneck speed (its potency quickly fades) from an Ethiopian hillside to a social club in Djibouti, where men sit with opium-eater grins, pretending they can kick the habit whenever they want. You feel the effects of the khat, hear the groans of the men, smell "a trace of diesel fuel exhaust topped with a whimsical finish of donkey fart."

Only the best travel writing can do that.

  • Pin It

Latest in Arts & Culture

  • Variations of Zuill
  • Variations of Zuill

    Badass cellist. Musical missionary. Grammy winner. Zuill Bailey redefines Bach for the 21st century
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • Backstage Story
  • Backstage Story

    Behind the preparation and precaution: Why it practically takes a village to put on a Cirque du Soleil show
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • The Genius of Bach
  • The Genius of Bach

    His lasting influence, and a look at this year's Bach Festival schedule
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…


Comments are closed.

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain

Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain @ Museum of Art/WSU

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Continues through March 11

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Joel Smith

Most Commented On

  • Partisan Pagans

    The political divide is even splintering Spokane's witches
    • Feb 2, 2017
  • Finding the Words

    The sounds of 8,000 people taking to the streets of Spokane
    • Jan 26, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation