Book Review: Lonely Planet’s ‘Better Than Fiction’

What is travel writing? Is the genre defined by its commitment to true-to-life recounting of the people, places and cultures we have experienced and lessons to be drawn from them? Or is travel writing something more malleable, simply a style of writing, true or not, that utilizes places and people as vehicles for a good story? The tension between these two competing definitions is at the heart of the new travel-themed anthology, “Better Than Fiction” by Lonely Planet.

“Better Than Fiction” is a collection of short travel-themed works by some of the world’s top literary fiction writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Isabel Allende and Alexander McCall Smith. Edited by Gadling’s own Features Editor, Don George, each of the 32 included short stories plays with this notion of “truth in travel writing,” bringing to bear the storytelling skills of veteran fiction writers to the world of non-fiction travel writing. Each of the varied works relates a true-to-life story from the author’s personal wanderings around the globe, all told with the writers’ rich storytelling skills intact.

For anyone who considers themselves a voracious consumer of travel writing, “Better Than Fiction” will make for a refreshing and illuminating read. In each of the short stories there’s a richness of character and crispness to the dialogue that makes them feel like excerpted chapters from a novel. Considering the growing glut of “Top 10″ and “destination tip” travel journalism that exists online, it’s easy to forget the best travel writing works because it’s good storytelling, not merely a laundry list of destination facts and to-do’s. Great travel storytelling, like the work showcased in “Better Than Fiction,” reminds us that ultimately discovering the truth about the places we visit involves more than just restating the facts.

Hang with Hardy at writers’ workshop weekend in Britain


If you’re a big fan of Return of the Native or Jude the Obscure, there’s a travel package that’s perfect for you. Built around the chance to hang with Thomas Hardy’s ghost – or, should we say, Thomas Hardy in ghost form? – Summer Lodge Country House Hotel is bringing four writers under its roof for a unique weekend of literary bliss. Guests will be able to learn how to make it as a writer from some heavy hitters, specifically Roger Collins, Marcelle Bernstein, Eric Clark and Jim O’Connor. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Hardy himself will weigh in with a few tips.

Roger Collins is an actor, broadcaster and writer, who counts his weekly International Herald Tribune column “The Frequent Traveler” among his claims to fame. Marcelle Bernstein is a novelist, nonfiction writer and journalist and has written Body & Soul and Sacred & Profane, both best sellers that later became feature films and television dramas. Eric Clark is an investigative journalist, and Jim O’Connor is an advertising copywriter who has pushed everything from forklifts to Australian rum.If you want to get in on the action, Summer Lodge’s Writers’ Weekend package includes two nights in a classic double room, a full English breakfast every day, champagne and canapés upon arrival and a three-course dinner Saturday evening. You’ll also be able to attend three writer workshop sessions over two days, sip tea and coffee during the events and receive a signed book by either Eric Clark or Marcelle Bernstein.

“Summer Lodge has close associations with Thomas Hardy,” says General Manager Charles Lötter. “He lived nearby and the hotel is at the very heart of the Wessex landscape he immortalized. The village pub, the Acorn Inn is featured in his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles as The Sow & Acorn. What’s more, in his capacity as an architect, Hardy was asked to design the upper floor and the drawing room of Summer Lodge by the 6th Earl of Ilchester in 1893. So you could say the house is haunted by him – although I’ve yet to bump into him myself.”