The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology has as its subtitle, True Stories From The World’s Best Writers. That’s an impressive claim, and you might expect some Pulitzer, Booker or Nobel prize winners in this collection, but it’s unlikely you’ll have heard of more than half of them before. Of those you will have heard of, TC Boyle’s recollection of his three and a half months in Ireland, when he wrote most of his If The River Was Whiskey collection, is as humorous, revealing and as entertaining as you’d expect of any of Boyle’s stories. Wonderful, in other words. Alexander McCall Smith recalls his time in Ireland too, and specifically describes a trip he took with friends from Belfast to Dublin at the height of the Troubles in 1974. Although he doesn’t remember the exact route they took, he still manages to paint perfect pictures of the people they met and particular incidents along the way, all in the context of those times.
All the stories follow a similar pattern (thanks, I guess, to the careful direction of editor Don George) of authors writing about a specific place and time that was important to them, and which, in some cases, were even defining moments in their lives. For Porochista Khakpour, a trip to Indonesia helped her come to terms not only with her Muslim cultural background but also, when she met a group of Christian students in the country, with how it is to live as part of a minority population in any context. And all that in a touching story written for the friends she made in writers’ group in Jakarta. Of the lesser-known authors, Shannon Leone Fowler’s story of travel photos and memories stood out for me. It’s a romance and a travelogue that also works perfectly as one of the best short stories I’ve read in a while. My personal favourite, however, is Robert Twigger’s story of dragging a specially-crafted (in one afternoon in a Cairo bazaar) trailer across the Egyptian desert to find a mythical stone temple built by the pharaohs. I was with Twigger every step of the way through one of the longest stories in the book until it all stopped suddenly mid-sentence. I quickly flipped to the next page only to find the start of a whole new story.
There were a few layout and editing errors in this copy (and it wasn’t one of those uncorrected proof copies reviewers sometimes get), so it might be better to wait for the next edition before buying, especially if you’re a fan of desert treks. Despite its flaws, and although it might not have contributions from many of the world’s best writers, this probably is some of the best travel writing around at the moment. It’s a collection of stories from a hugely diverse group of authors (34 in all), covering a wide spectrum of topics and countries. And each contribution is of a pretty high standard. There’s not a single dud in here.
Any Cop?: Get this if you’re looking for some short-form travel writing of a quality way beyond what you find in the huge number of travel blogs out there. Those trusted big names make this book worth it on their own, but it’s the new favourites you’re bound to find too that make this anthology something really special.