Meeting Paul Theroux

“Tonight I feel very fortunate, as I met Paul Theroux, one of my very favorite authors. I’d read about his appearance in the Milwaukee Journal on Sunday and resolved to go see and hear him. This would be the first author appearance and book signing event I’ve ever attended, so I was very excited…

theroux.jpg

Paul has a reputation as a cranky, cantankerous traveller with reviewers, so he addressed this straightaway. He contended that he really wasn’t grouchy at all, but much more Hobbit-like, always spreading cheer. “I’m an optimist” he said. “Grouches are pessimists who prefer staying at home on the couch rather than traveling. After all, if you have a great time traveling, with no challenges, there’s nothing much to write about.”

Next, he announced that there would be no reading of his new book — that we were all capable of reading it ourselves. Instead, he offered us commentary and his own list of what travel writing is and is not:

• Having a miserable time during travel, lets you really see yourself. You can often see what is sometimes overlooked in your comfortable daily life.

• Location is not as important as observing. Where you go has nothing to do with good travel writing. Henry David Thoreaux went only a few miles from home to write about Walden pond.

• Travel writing is about leaving things behind: phones, computers and the rest of it — it’s an opportunity to un-hitch from life and possessions.

• The best travel writing happens when you’re alone. Being alone forces you to make friends, to learn the language. It also offers you a chance to take an inner journey.

• It can be good to do something you love while traveling — giving away whatever you can offer. As an example, Paul mentioned a dentist he crossed paths with, who carried novocain and a pliers, pulling teeth as he wandered across Africa…”

Mike Rohde
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One Response to Meeting Paul Theroux

  1. bemsha says:

    I loved reading this post. Although I am a fan of Paul Theroux’s travel books ever since I read The Great Railway Bazaar back in the late 1980s, I had neglected to follow his non-fiction work during the past couple of years.

    I was delighted to learn while reading Mike’s post that Paul had written a book about a journey to Africa (Dark Star Safari), which – I had felt over the years – had been a “missing piece” for a writer who has traveled and written about his journeys to almost every continent on the planet.

    Information on Paul’s non-fiction works (including travel books)can be found here:

    http://www.paultheroux.com/nonfiction.htm

    I’ll get Dark Star Safari soon, though sans Paul’s signature and a brief discussion with him… Thanks for the post, Mike!

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