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.

Baby snow leopard captured on camera for first time in Bhutan

Snow leopards are amongst the most elusive and shy creatures on the planet. The big cats live at high altitude and are rarely seen by man, let alone captured on camera. But the BBC is reporting that a snow leopard cub has been caught on video for the first time when it triggered a camera trap in the mountains of Bhutan recently.

The video was captured by a camera trap that was set by a BBC film crew who were hoping to get some footage of the rare animals in their natural habitat. The device has a built-in motion sensor that is designed to turn the camera on when something moves within range of the lens. This allows a crew to set up cameras and leave them in the field for extended periods without the need for a cameraman or requiring the batteries to be charged on a daily basis. The team then returns every few days to review the findings and check the status of the device.

This particular trap was activated when the young snow leopard wandered into range. After surveying the area nervously, the cub begins to wander up hill directly at the lens. Looking straight into the camera, the cat sniffs it curiously before slowly moving on. The entire encounter was a brief one, but for the veteran BBC crew, it was the shot of a lifetime.

The footage of the young leopard will air this week on the BBC’s nature special Lost Land of the Tiger a show that also captured video of tigers living at higher altitudes than had ever been recorded before. It seems this particular film crew had lightning strike twice while producing this show.

[Photo credit: Aaron Logan via WikiMedia]