A gun show is about like-minded people who feel as if everything has been taken away from them – jobs, money, pride.
A journey awakens all our old fears of danger and risk. Your life is on the line. You are living by your own resources; you have to find your own way and solve every problem on the road.
A novel captures essence that is not possible in any other form.
A place that doesn’t welcome tourists, that’s really difficult and off the map, is a place I want to see.
A travel book is a book that puts you in the shoes of the traveler, and it’s usually a book about having a very bad time; having a miserable time, even better.
A travel book is about someone who goes somewhere, travels on the ground, sees something and spends quite a lot of time doing it, and has a hard time, and then comes back and writes about it. It’s not about inventing.
Africa is really a place for the wealthy traveler. It’s got some nice hotels, but they’re very expensive hotels. It doesn’t really cater to the backpacker or to the overland traveler.
Although I’m not fluent in sign language by a long way, I could have a fairly decent conversation.
An island is a fixed and finite piece of geography, and usually the whole place has been carved up and claimed.
Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night’s sleep, and strangers’ monologues framed like Russian short stories.
Because of my capacity for listening to strangers’ tales, or the details of their lives, my patience with their food and their crotchets, my curiosity that borders on nosiness, I am told that anyone traveling with me experiences an unbelievable tedium, and this is why I choose to travel alone.
Death is an endless night so awful to contemplate that it can make us love life and value it with such passion that it may be the ultimate cause of all joy and all art.
Dentists seem to me very orderly, businesslike people who appear to become somewhat bored with the routine of their work after a period of time. Perhaps I’m wrong.
Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.
Everything is fiction. You only have your own life to work with in the way that a biographer only has the letters and journals to work with.
Extensive traveling induces a feeling of encapsulation, and travel, so broadening at first, contracts the mind.
Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.
Fiction gives us the second chances that life denies us.
Fiction writing, and the reading of it, and book buying, have always been the activities of a tiny minority of people, even in the most-literate societies.
Friendship is also about liking a person for their failings, their weakness. It’s also about mutual help, not about exploitation.
Gain a modest reputation for being unreliable and you will never be asked to do a thing.
Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.
Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, Graham Greene – they influenced my life to a profound extent.
I am happy being what I am.
I believe I have a sunny disposition, and am not naturally a grouch. It takes a lot of optimism, after all, to be a traveler.
I can’t predict how reading habits will change. But I will say that the greatest loss is the paper archive – no more a great stack of manuscripts, letters, and notebooks from a writer’s life, but only a tiny pile of disks, little plastic cookies where once were calligraphic marvels.
I cannot make my days longer so I strive to make them better.
I do not want to be young again.
I don’t look down on tourism. I live in Hawaii where we have 7 million visitors a year. If they weren’t there, there would be no economy. So I understand why a tourist economy is necessary.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person having a serious conversation on a cellphone. It’s like a kiddie thing, a complete time waster.
I feel as if my mission is to write, to see, to observe, and I feel lazy if I’m not reaching conclusions. I feel stupid. I feel as if I’m wasting my time.
I grew up in an era of thinking of travel as escape. The idea that you could conceivably have a new life, go somewhere, fall in love, have little children under the palm trees.
I hate vacations. I hate them. I have no fun on them. I get nothing done. People sit and relax, but I don’t want to relax. I want to see something.
I have always felt that the truth is prophetic, and that if you describe precisely what you see and give it life with your imagination, then what you write ought to have lasting value, no matter what the mood of your prose.
I have spent my life on the road waking in a pleasant, or not so pleasant hotel, and setting off every morning after breakfast hoping to discover something new and repeatable, something worth writing about.
I have written stories, essays, even whole books on trains, scribble-scribble.
I know there are writers who feel unhappy with domesticity and who even manufacture domestic turmoil in order to have something to write about. With me, though, the happier I feel, the better I write.
I like the idea of isolation, I like the idea of solitude. You can be connected and have a phone and still be lonely.
I loathe blogs when I look at them. Blogs look, to me, illiterate. They look hasty, like someone babbling.
I should start by saying that traveling in the States is a bit like traveling in Asia. You need it, it helps to have an introduction – that there is a certain network.
I think I am typical in believing that the Peace Corps trained us brilliantly and then did little more except send us into the bush. It was not a bad way of running things.
I think I understand passion. Love is something else.
I think people read travel books either because they intend to take that trip, or because they would never take that trip. In a sense, as a writer you are doing the travel for the reader.
I think that love isn’t what you think it is when you’re in your twenties or even thirties.
I think there is only one way to write fiction – alone, in a room, without interruption or any distraction.
I wanted the Peace Corps to be something very vague and unorganized, and to a large extent it was. It did not run smoothly. The consequence was that we were left alone.
I was kind of raised with the suggestion that I had a duty to do; that life was real, life was earnest. And I hated that, actually. I needed to be liberated, to be told that I could live the life that I wanted to live; that I didn’t need a job, or to be shouted at; that I could be myself; that I could be happy.
I was raised in a large family. The first reason for my travel was to get away from my family. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t want people to ask me questions about it.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a travel novelist, but rather a novelist who travels – and who uses travel as a background for finding stories of places.
I’m constantly running across people who have never heard of books I think they should read.
I’m not pessimistic about Africa. The cities just seem big and hopeless. But there’s still a great green heart where there’s possibility. There’s hope in the wilderness.
I’ve never spent a whole year in one place without leaving.
If you look at a map, you see that Hawaii is in the middle of nowhere. It’s 17 hours of straight flying from London. It’s very far away, and sometimes you feel as if you’re on another planet. But I like that. Also, that’s ideal for writing.
If you’re a misanthrope you stay at home. There are certain writers who really don’t like other people. I’m not like that, I don’t think.
It is usually expensive and lonely to be principled.
It’s only when you’re alone that you realize where you are. You have nothing to fall back on except your own resources.
Japan, Germany, and India seem to me to have serious writers, readers, and book buyers, but the Netherlands has struck me as the most robust literary culture in the world.
Literary life used to be quite different in Britain in the years I lived there, from 1971 to 1989, because money was not a factor – no one made very much except from U.S. sales and the occasional windfall.
Love doesn’t last.
Maine is a joy in the summer. But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter.
Maine out of season is unmistakably a great destination: hospitable, good-humored, plenty of elbow room, short days, dark nights of crackling ice crystals.
Many aspects of the writing life have changed since I published my first book, in the 1960s. It is more corporate, more driven by profits and marketing, and generally less congenial – but my day is the same: get out of bed, procrastinate, sit down at my desk, try to write something.
Many small towns I know in Maine are as tight-knit and interdependent as those I associate with rural communities in India or China; with deep roots and old loyalties, skeptical of authority, they are proud and inflexibly territorial.
Mark Twain was a great traveler and he wrote three or four great travel books. I wouldn’t say that I’m a travel novelist but rather a novelist who travels – and who uses travel as a background for finding stories of places.
Men in their late 50s often make very bad decisions.
Movable type seemed magical to the monks who were illuminating manuscripts and copying texts. Certainly e-books seem magical to me.
My earliest thought, long before I was in high school, was just to go away, get out of my house, get out of my city. I went to Medford High School, but even in grade school and junior high, I fantasized about leaving.
My father had an invisible job outside of the house; I didn’t know what he did. But my kids were privy to the ups and downs of a writer’s life.
My greatest inspiration is memory.
My house is a place I have spent many years improving to the point where I have no desire to leave it.
My love for traveling to islands amounts to a pathological condition known as nesomania, an obsession with islands. This craze seems reasonable to me, because islands are small self-contained worlds that can help us understand larger ones.
My record was so bad that I was first rejected by the Peace Corps as a poor risk and possible troublemaker and was accepted as a volunteer only after a great deal of explaining and arguing.
Nyasaland was the perfect country for a volunteer. It was friendly and destitute; it was small and out-of-the-way. It had all of Africa’s problems – poverty, ignorance, disease.
One of my fears is not writing. I don’t know how to do anything else.
One of the things the ‘Tao of Travel’ shows is how unforthcoming most travel writers are, how most travelers are. They don’t tell you who they were traveling with, and they’re not very reliable about things that happened to them.
People say writing is really hard. That’s very unfair to those who are doing real jobs. People who work in the fields or fix roofs, engineers, or car mechanics. I think lying on your back working under an oily car, that’s a job.
People see a hungry face, and they want to feed it; that’s a natural response.
People talk about the pain of writing, but very few people talk about the pleasure and satisfaction.
People who don’t read books a lot are threatened by books.
People write about getting sick, they write about tummy trouble, they write about having to wait for a bus. They write about waiting. They write three pages about how long it took them to get a visa. I’m not interested in the boring parts. Everyone has tummy trouble. Everyone waits in line. I don’t want to hear about it.
Television cannot film corruption. Television cannot spend five days on a rattling railway train, talking endlessly. Television needs excitement, it needs an angle, it needs a ‘sound bite.
The amount of hassle involved in travel can be overwhelming.
The appeal of travel books is also the sense that you are different, an outsider, almost like the Robinson Crusoe or Christopher Columbus notion of being the first person in a new place.
The Australian Book of Etiquette is a very slim volume.
The idea of traveling in Africa for me is based on going by road or train or bus or whatever and crossing borders. You can’t travel easily or at all through some countries.
The impulse to write comes, I think, from a desire – perhaps a need – to give imaginative life to experience, to share it with the reader, not to cover up the truth but to deliver it obliquely.
The Japanese have perfected good manners and made them indistinguishable from rudeness.
The job of the travel writer is to go far and wide, to make voluminous notes, to tell the truth.
The moment that changed me for ever was the moment my first child was born. I was happy, filled with hope, and thought, ‘Now I understand the whole point of work, of life, of love.’
The more you write, the more you’re capable of writing.
The Peace Corps is a sort of Howard Johnson’s on the main drag into maturity.
The people I’ve known who’ve done great things of that type – you know, building hospitals, running schools – are very humble people. They give their lives to the project.
The people of Hong Kong are criticized for only being interested in business, but it’s the only thing they’ve been allowed to do.
The place that interests me most, actually, is the United States. I’ve realized that I haven’t traveled much in the States. There’s a lot to see.
The pleasure a reader gets is often equal to the pleasure a writer is given.
The Trans-Siberian Express is like a cruise across an oceanic landscape. I’ve done it three times.
The travel impulse is mental and physical curiosity. It’s a passion. And I can’t understand people who don’t want to travel.
The two impulses in travel are to get away from home, and the other is to pursue something – a landscape, people, an exotic place. Certainly finding a place that you like or discovering something unusual is a very sustaining thing in travel.
The United States is a world unto itself. We have mountains, we have deserts, we have a river that equals the Yangtze River, that equals the Nile. We have the greatest cities in the world – among the greatest cities in the world.
The worst thing that can happen to you in travel is having a gun pointed at you by a very young person. That’s happened to me maybe four times in my life. I didn’t like it.
There are places that I’ve always wanted to go. First I went to Africa, and when I was there I realized there were places in Africa I really to wanted to visit: The Congo, West Africa, Mombassa. I wanted to see the deep, dark, outlandish places.
There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of one at the moment.
There are two places that are hard to write about. A place like Britain, England in particular, which has been written about by everybody, and then the place that’s never been written about.
There are two worlds: the world of the tourist and the world of everyone else. Often they’re side by side. But the tourist doesn’t actually see how people live.
There’s books that are about places we will never go, and then there’s books that inspire us to go.
To me, writing is a considered act. It’s something which is a great labor of thought and consideration.
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.
Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.
Travel magazines are just one cupcake after another. They’re not about travel. The travel magazine is, in fact, about the opposite of travel. It’s about having a nice time on a honeymoon, or whatever.
Travel works best when you’re forced to come to terms with the place you’re in.
What draws me in is that a trip is a leap in the dark. It’s like a metaphor for life. You set off from home, and in the classic travel book, you go to an unknown place. You discover a different world, and you discover yourself.
What strikes me about high-school reunions is the realization that these are people one has known one’s whole life.
When I began to make some money, I really wanted to have a home.
When I left Africa in 1966 it seemed to me to be a place that was developing, going in a particular direction, and I don’t think that is the case now. And it’s a place where people still kid themselves – you know, in a few years this will happen or that will happen. Well, it’s not going to happen. It’s never going to happen.
When I started writing, I did have some idealised notion of my dad as a writer. But I have less and less of a literary rivalry with him as I’ve gone on. I certainly don’t feel I need his approval, although maybe that’s because I’m confident that I’ve got it.
When I was in the Peace Corps I never made a phone call. I was in Central Africa; I didn’t make a phone call for two years. I was in Uganda for another four years and I didn’t make a phone call. So for six years I didn’t make a phone call, but I wrote letters, I wrote short stories, I wrote books.
When I went to Hong Kong, I knew at once I wanted to write a story set there.
When I write about my childhood I think, oh my God, how did I ever get from there to here? Not that any great thing has happened to me. But I felt so tiny, so lost.
Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.
Writing is pretty crummy on the nerves.
Writing was in my mind from the time I was in high school, but more, the idea that I would be a doctor. I really wanted to be a medical doctor, and I had various schemes: one was to be a psychiatrist, another was tropical medicine.
You can’t separate the people from the places – although I sometimes like traveling in places where there are no people.
You can’t write about a friend, you can only write about a former friend.
You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.
You leave the States, and you see people have bigger problems than you, much worse problems than you.
You may not know it but I’m no good at coping with all the attention in the luxury hotels I sometimes find myself in.
You need to be on your own so that you can meet people as you are, and as they are.