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From the Desk of Duncan Smith: Armchair Travel

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Posted May 29, 2013 in NoveList Select, Readers' Advisory News

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Any librarian anticipating a surge in demand for travel narratives as summer approaches should get their hands on a copy of Robert Burgin's Going Places: A Reader's Guide to Travel Narrative (Libraries Unlimited, 2013). There is no better guide to the terrain of travel narratives. NoveList staff had the opportunity to broaden their understanding of this genre earlier this year when Dr. Burgin participated in one of our company's genre overview workshops. These regularly scheduled programs are just one way NoveList staff keeps current with trends in popular literature.

Readers of this issue of RA News have the chance to broaden their understanding of travel writing from articles that span the globe. One of the challenges Robert Burgin and the authors of this issue's articles all face is attempting to place a particular travel book in its proper place within the genre of travel narrative. I'm going to use a recent article from the New Yorker's Journey issue (April 22, 2013) to illustrate the dilemma. Burkhard Bilger's article "The Martian Chronicles" describes the challenges inherent in sending the space probe Curiosity to Mars. Because the article spends time on the geography and history of Mars, maybe it should be in the "Sense of Place" subgenre. Or since it discusses the two men responsible for the success of the mission, should it belong in the "Journey" sub-genre? Does this article even qualify as a travel narrative, because people don't actually do the traveling -- a space-craft does? Are we going to have to revise Dickinson's poem to read "There is no Frigate like a drone/To take us Worlds away"?

Let me hear from you if you have thoughts about whether travel by proxy qualifies for placement in the travel narrative canon. I think it does because our readers continue their journeys to places far away every time they turn the page, no matter who does the actual traveling.


Duncan Smith is the Vice President and founder of NoveList. He is passionate about the importance of reading, and the power of libraries to change lives.