Since 2000, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has produced an annual edition of The Best American Travel Writing, coalescing the work of a variety of notable writers the likes of Pam Houston and David Sedaris. The locations in each edition range across varying degrees of foreignness, encompassing the Chernobyl site, the walled city of Belfast, and occasionally domestic locales like Seattle. Tales of exploration are a powerful tool of reflection for writers and a transportational experience for readers. As travel writing has exploded onto the blogosphere, there are now as many accounts of exciting travel as there are beautiful European streets to wander. These descriptions of far-off places offer the cultural insights gained abroad without the monetary expense and long TSA lines one faces when actually traveling. Most importantly, travel writing encourages us to examine places critically through the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that accost our senses. What if we gave ourselves permission as readers and writers to intentionally explore without traveling to the notable locations documented in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s anthologies?
The small town of Duvall, Washington, is not a paradigm of agricultural nostalgia—there are plenty of Microsoft families enjoying the predictable suburban lifestyle. Nor is Duvall a bustling economic center or cultural hub or outdoor paradise. It’s just a small town that is expanding and changing without much notice from the rest of the world. I grew up in Duvall, but didn’t fully enjoy the facets that make it unique and memorable until I moved away. Reflecting now, I think about C.C.’s ice cream shop and Cherry Valley sports field with a deliberateness of detail not unlike Sedaris’s hilarious depiction of his Parisian dentist’s office.
To explore the exceptional in the common, consider the upcoming release of Allison Green’s The Ghosts Who Travel With Me. This unusual memoir takes us on a literary pilgrimage through the campsites and small towns of the Pacific Northwest. The story follows the path of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America to illuminate the beauty in the uncelebrated landscapes of Idaho. Also read through Green’s blog, which is another stirring example of skillful observation despite unremarkable circumstances.
It seems woeful that the genre of travel writing has passed over the familiar in favor of the exotic when the acts of consideration and documentation could encourage new perspectives and reignited awareness. We need more travelless travel writing, and perhaps there is an increasingly large place for celebrating the mundane as the world’s most iconic cities become saturated subject matter.
When is the last time you looked at your neighborhood as a potential setting for an unfolding adventure? Maybe today is the day you tour the immediate area and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. How would you describe your hometown or your current street corner? Embrace travelless travel writing by commenting below.