On the road again with Paul Theroux
The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road
by Paul Theroux
For 50 years, Paul Theroux has been traveling the world, and writing about it. The author has penned some of the best-loved travel books of all time, including The Great Railway Bazaar and Sunrise with Seamonsters, as well as many other titles (more than 40 in total) informed by his journeys.
In The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), Theroux steps back to ruminate on the act of travel itself. He has collected a half-century’s worth of insights in one volume, and added much more.
The small, leather-bound edition has the feel of a travel journal, in your hand and in your mind. It is described as a “miscellany,” and in the preface, Theroux says it’s about “the joy of travel … and perhaps the misery too.”
There are short essays on the pleasures of railroads, on great feats of travel, on not traveling, on the joy of inhospitable places, on what travel writers brought with them, and on how long they traveled. Many of the chapters include quotes from other travelers and writers on the topic at hand: Joseph Conrad on the intrusion of travel, Werner Herzog on the virtue of walking, and Somerset Maugham on the need to escape England. Interspersed are mini-chapters on “travel wisdom” from Paul Bowles, Freya Stark, Evelyn Waugh, and others. The richness and depth make the book worth more than its weight in your bag.
In his travelogues, as he makes his way through the world with a sharp eye, the Paul Theroux we meet can be prickly, cantankerous, and opinionated. But the Paul Theroux who composed The Tao of Travel, while not quite Lao-Tzu, seems to be a gentler soul. This may be one of the warmest and most generous of Theroux’s books. Even those who enjoy his curmudgeonly charm will find it an amiable travel companion.