Longreads introduces curated travel reading with Travelreads

travel reading homepage travelteadsThanks to the Internet, social media and our various smartphones and e-readers, you no longer have to rely on the airport newsstand’s collection of John Grisham novels for travel reading. You can browse the New York Times from your cell phone, read a guidebook on your Kindle or start dreaming about your next trip with an e-magazine like TRVL. If you’re a fan of long-form journalism and fiction, you may look to Longreads for a constant stream of links to new and classic content online.

Today, Longreads has launched Travelreads, a destination-specific channel for travel reading with partner Virgin Atlantic. Compiled by links submitted by readers and curated by the Longreads team, the channel will include traditional travel writing as well as short stories and non-fiction set in a particular destination. “Geolocated Longreads, basically,” as founder Mark Armstrong has called it. All of the links are 1500 words or longer with offerings ranging from 1932 to brand-new content.

Travel blogger Jodi Ettenberg, a long-time contributor and lover of Longreads, was recently hired as a contributing editor and is helping to run the Travelreads feed. “It’s a great place to highlight the best of long-form travel writing,” said Ettenberg. “It’s also wonderful to expand it beyond purely non-fiction travel narrative. To include classics and fiction gives the feed a roundness that I feel sets it apart.” So far, you can find everything from Hemingway’s report from the Spanish Civil War front, to a Haruki Murakami fiction piece on Tokyo cats and a straight-up travel piece on Penang, Malasia. You can search for any place or author you like on the site.

You can find Longreads for your next trip at Longreads.com/travelreads, or by checking their Twitter or Facebook feeds for “the raw feed” of links submitted by readers. Share your own favorite stories by tweeting links with the hashtag #travelreads. Happy reading!

Travel Read: The Coffee Story

coffeeAs a writer, I read many books by authors I know. As a traveler, I read lots of books set in places I’ve been. The Coffee Story by Peter Salmon gave me the rare chance to read a book about a place I love written by someone I met there.

For the record, I don’t review books by friends because that’s both unprofessional and unwise. Peter isn’t a friend except in the Facebook sense of “I got drunk with this guy once and have his email address”.

I met Peter while I was living in Harar, Ethiopia. Peter’s novel is set in Harar in the 1930s and just weeks before it was published he visited for the first time. That’s right, he visited Harar after he wrote the book.

To 99.9% of his readership that doesn’t matter since they’ve never been to Harar. I have and it did. The book is laden with mistakes. For example, Peter has Harar surrounded by jungle when in fact it’s surrounded by rocky hills and cultivated fields, and where the hell did the Jain community come from? He also uses the G-word for the Oromo. While I suppose this epithet would have been in common usage among whites living in Ethiopia in the 1930s, it will do nothing to endear him to Ethiopian readers.

But this isn’t really a story about Harar, or indeed about coffee. These are simply backdrops with which to tell the story of Theodore Everett, heir to a huge coffee business, now dying of cancer. Most of the action takes place 70 years before, when he’s a kid on his father’s plantation in Harar, where the best coffee in the world comes from. Ignored by his greedy and abusive father, Theodore falls under the sway of an Ethiopian Marxist and other locals, as well as a mysterious white girl who emerges from the jungle one day.

Theodore tells us right off that he’s “not given to suspense” and a terrible showdown is inevitable between the Marxist and his father. To steal the title of a wonderful film, there will be blood. It’s a tribute to Salmon’s excellent storytelling that the final showdown, when it comes, is nevertheless laden with suspense. We have an inkling of what’s going to happen all along, but like two cars veering towards a head-on collision, it’s terrible to see them hit.

While there’s no sense of place beyond a stereotypical “deepest, darkest Africa” worthy of some old Tarzan flick, most characters are brilliantly drawn and often hilarious, and the prose loops and curls in on itself. Like many old men, Theodore repeats himself constantly. This gets a bit irritating but the characters and narrative tension kept me turning pages. The prose is rich (bonus points for using “flibbertigibbet”) and the characters spring to life the first sentence they’re introduced.

I give this book three out of five stars. Sorry Peter, I know it’s my round, but while you’re an excellent stylist and a sharp wit, the whole thing veers a wee bit too close to neocolonialism. You put Harar in a jungle because Africa’s all jungle, right? The Ethiopians all sound like Europeans with a bit of earthy spiritualism thrown in for color, and the only female Ethiopian character is oversexed and two-dimensional. Although she’s sleeping with the underaged protagonist, Theodore’s One True Love is the only white girl he meets in Africa. And the blackface scene made me embarrassed even though I wasn’t the one who wrote it.

There’s an old adage among writers: stick with what you know. Set your next novel in England or Australia and you’ll write a masterpiece.

Books! Travelers share what to read on the road

book, books
There’s nothing like a trip for catching up on your reading. Even if you’ve filled your schedule with dawn-to-dusk sightseeing, there are still quiet moments at the hotel or by the pool, not to mention those long flights. So what’s best to read while traveling? On Saturday I’m heading to Harar, Ethiopia, for two months, so this has been on my mind. I asked a bunch of seasoned travelers what’s in their pack. Their suggestions fall into several overlapping categories.

Disposable
Most agree it’s best to bring books you don’t feel the need to bring back. Not only does this give you a chance to pick up something unexpected at a book exchange, it also frees up space for souvenirs. You can also give reading material away, as Catherine Bodry explains, “I always treat myself to magazines at the airport (People, Runners World, Oxygen, Nat Geo Traveler, etc.) and I usually stockpile a few issues of the New Yorker from the weeks prior to a trip. They also make great gifts if I’m headed to a censored country like China!”

Entertaining
Some people go for light, unchallenging reads. Annie Scott Riley says, “I’ll finish anything I’m already reading; usually fiction, but anything I start on vacation has to be just for fun. For example, the Chelsea Handler books, anything Dave Barry, Chuck Klosterman. I guess I like some pop culture commentary to assess what I’m getting away from.”

Educational
Many well-heeled travelers bring books that teach them about the places they’ll see. Mike Barish says, “While in Hawaii earlier this month, I read Blue Latitudes about Cook’s voyages in the Pacific Islands.” Laurel Kallenbach says, “It can be nice to read Yeats in Ireland, Shakespeare in England. I lived for a few weeks in the French village of Ferney-Voltaire, so I read Voltaire’s Candide there–and then toured the author’s castle.”

Variety
Many people like to have a variety of books. Mary Jo Manzanares finds her ereader handy. “Before leaving I load it up with a bunch of books from a variety of genres, then I can pick and choose what to ready while on the road. I like a variety of reading–something light for the airplane or on the beach (a mystery or chick lit), something historical when I’m on site, and I can also read blogs, magazines, and newspapers on it as well. Last year while staying in the middle of a vineyard in Tuscany I saw that one of my favorite authors had just released his new book–just a minute later I was able to download and read it. Best of all, I can take all this reading with me and take up no space at all.”Small
With ever-increasing baggage fees, it’s best to bring something small. I prefer mass-market paperbacks, leaving the hefty hardbacks at home. Like Manzanares, Gadling cruise correspondent Chris Owen saves space with ebooks. “On cruises, we read a book a day so long sailings required separate luggage just for the books. iPads changed all that, especially now that our local public library offers books online too.”

So what’s in my pack?
English language books are in limited supply where I’m going, and many tend to be foreign imports at Western prices, so I’m bringing a two-month supply. They are:

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad: A thick, fast-paced classic in a mass market edition that I can leave behind. I can always find another copy.

Eating the Flowers of Paradise: A Journey through the Drug Fields of Ethiopia and Yemen by Kevin Rushby: A fascinating study of qat, the drug of choice in the Horn of Africa. It’s impossible to understand the culture without understanding qat.

The Bible: I’m an agnostic, but as a professional historian I can’t ignore one of the most influential books ever written. I haven’t read it for more than a decade so it’s due for a reread, especially since I’ll be spending most of my time in a Muslim town. Muslims read the Bible too, and I just reread the Koran last year.

Thus Spake Prophet Muhammad: These selections from the Hadith are in a tiny little edition I picked up in India. It can’t hurt to brush up on my knowledge of Islam if I’m going to live in a Muslim town.

Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre: Hararis are a philosophical bunch, and I rarely pick up this sort of heavy reading when I’m at home working. I’m sure someone over there will want it when I’m done.

The Best Stories and Tales of Leo Tolstoy: This is actually an Ethiopian edition I picked up when I was last in Harar. I’m nearly done with it but I want to give it to a friend.

Articles about Harari history and culture: I printed some of these out and have dozens of them on a thumb drive if I want to print out any at an Internet cafe. I also made copies onto two CDs for some Harari friends.

Amharic dictionary and phrasebook

Brandt Guide to Ethiopia

What do you bring to read on the road? Share your bookish habits in the comments section!