A few days ago I got my copy of the Best American Travel Writing 2008 in the mail. Needless to say, I was happy to have two of my stories chosen for the Notable Travel Writing list in the back. But it was also nice to see some of my friends and favorite writers in there too. Among the collection were great pieces by Jim Campbell (a charter member of our Madison writers drinking squad) Bryan Mealer, who I interviewed for World Hum a few months ago, and fellow twin citoyen Catherine Watson. But one of my favorite pieces in the book is a gem by Jeffery Tayler who wrote The Woman in the Keffiyeh for World Hum. It is, I think, a near-perfect story, a crystal clear moment in time. You can’t help be transported right there with him. There are also some great pieces in the anthology by writers like Bill Buford, Peter Hessler, J. Malcolm Garcia and others.
Archive for September, 2008
Like everyone, I was very, very sad to get the news of David Foster Wallace’s death. He was probably the best writer of our generation, and an inspiration to many of us in the trenches. I always come back to his work as a reminder of what it’s possible to do with words and images and ideas. He may have been the only writer truly up to the task of trying to make some sense of the absurdity of this world we find ourselves in.
A few years ago, I interviewed space shuttle commander Eileen Collins for Audubon Magazine, about the scale of environmental change she could see from space. It was my introduction to what’s known as remote sensing, or satellite technology, which is changing the the way we see life on this planet. There was a time when we lived in the dimensions of latitude and longitude. Now we live in three, and we are used to seeing the world from above. Nothing brings this home more that this photo of Rub’ al Khali, or the Empty Quarter on the Arabian Peninsula, the world’s largest ocean of sand which was described by Wilfred Thesiger as he crossed it in his book, Arabian Sands. This image reminds me of of how far we’ve come since the days when the only way to see across such a vast place was to travel with your own feet and to take it in with your own eyes.
Catching up on my magazine pile, I came across a great story by Scott Raab, one of the most interesting writers working today. Years ago, when I was living overseas, my then-girlfriend (now wife) sent me a copy of his story in GQ on the Promise Keepers, “The Triumph of His Will.” It made a huge impression on me, and it remains one of my favorites stories. His new piece on Corey Booker has the same mix of humor, outrage and pathos and reminded me how his audacious writing can be so much fun.