July 10, 2010

Dolman Travel Book of the Year

The dead yard book coverIan Thomson’s The dead yard: tales of modern Jamaica has won the 5th Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award. This is Britain’s only prize dedicated to “serious travel literature”, as their website has it. Founded by William Dolman, a Reverend Doctor, Author’s Club member and retired London coroner, it used to be only for UK travel writers (or those residing in the UK, like Kapka Kassabova, whose Street without a name was a finalist last year), but starting this year books published in English translation by a UK publisher can also compete.

I was wondering if this new rule is meant to let everyone in except Americans, when it occurred to me that I didn’t actually know who these other authors would be. I couldn't think of any writer currently producing travel books who isn’t British born or a British resident, or American. Pico Iyer, everyone’s darling, so exotic-sounding: born in Britain! Tahir Shah, author of In Arabian Nights, a big hit a couple of years ago: born in Britain! Is this is a real phenomenon or just my ignorance?

I tried a google search in French for "new travel books". The first hit was a new audiobook of de Bougainville’s Voyage around the World (Eighteenth century). I kept going. Aha! A “cultural” site boasting 40,000 new titles. No “Travel” category… hmm…  here we are, “Travel and Nature”, that’ll do.  Two dozen titles about animals and one about the Porqueroll islands (real name), located off the faraway, undiscovered Côte d’Azur. Resisting the temptation to peek at the blurb for The grandeur and decadence of the giraffe, I moved on to an Italian search. Magnifico! Straight away, up came a book called Austral voyages. But no, I had read too quickly. It was Astrali, not Australi. I was being offered out-of-body experiences.

Leaving the question of possible future nominees aside for now, therefore (but if anyone knows more about this apparent Anglo monopoly in travel writing - or publishing? -  I'd love to be clued in), here are this year’s short-listed titles:

A single swallow book cover   Lost and found in Russia book cover

The dead yard: tales of modern Jamaica by Ian Thomson (winner)
Along the enchanted way: a Romanian story by William Blacker
A single swallow: following an epic journey from South Africa to South Wales by Horatio Clare
Eleven minutes late: a train journey to the soul of Britain  by Mathew Engel
Lost and found in Russia by Susan Richards
Out of steppe: the lost peoples of Central Asia by Daniel Metcalfe
Tequila oil: getting lost in Mexico by Hugh Thomson

Although the Dolman Prize regulations do  not prohibit punning titles, a ban I would have a certain sympathy with, they do state that “single-issue driven books, ‘disguised’ cookery or aspirational lifestyle books, are discouraged from entering.”  I’m not sure about the quotes around ‘disguised’, but I'm right there with the sentiment. Actually, if they were my awards, I think I'd use "disallowed" rather than "discouraged".

A few Karen Craig Travel Writing Awards:

Best description of a person through a clothing item: William Least Heat Moon in Blue Highways, “... I said to the man whose hat told me what kind of fertilizer he used”.

Best “Rude about Australians” moment: Paul Theroux in The Great Railway Bazaar when he says that when he found himself sharing a compartment with Australians he always knew he’d hit bottom. (Also great is the part with the guy -- but I think he’s German, not Australian -- blithely listing the places he might go next while taking bites out of an apple, and it seems as if he’s biting into the globe, apportioning it out to himself. “Maybe Bali,” crunch, “maybe Bangkok,” crunch.)

Best “Oops” moment: In Around the World in 80 days, when Fogg’s valet Passepartout remembers that he has left the gas on back home.

Great truism moment: Henry Miller when he says in The Colossus of Maroussi  “The more humble the employment the more interesting I find a Greek to be.”

Saddest travel writing: the finale of Bruce Chatwin’s Lament for Afghanistan in What am I doing here? which starts “But that day will not bring back the things we loved” and goes on to list things like blue icecaps on the mountains and the whiff of a snow leopard at 20,000 feet.

Unforgettable image: Joseph Brodsky in his book about Venice, Watermark, describing the fog arriving in Piazza S. Marco like a king riding in on a stallion and unwrapping his immense white turban. His boots are wet and he’s wearing a cloak embroidered with jewels which are the street lights. Brodsky says, He’s dressed like that because he doesn’t know what century it is, or even what year. How could he, being fog?

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:30
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