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Ziff had to clue me in to the fact that travel writing has been the steady number 2 selling genre (after the bible) in this country since colonial times. I also didn't know anything about Ledyard, Taylor, and Stephens, and found their adventures fascinating.
Like many, I knew quite a bit about Twain's life and his travels, but his life was so rich that it was helpful to examine his later years solely through a more narrow travel-writing lens, as Ziff does. Twain's dilemna reads all too clear: he hated to be away from Hartford, but he couldn't afford the upkeep on his mansion there, so he had to move his family to cheap, 19th-century Europe. Significantly, it was the rivers of Germany that got him thinking of his riverboat days and eventually inspired him to write Life on the Mississippi. But even as he was reminiscing about his American source material, he couldn't return: the bulk of his much-needed money came not from his fiction but from his travel books, dispatches, and especially from his international lecturing; so when he had reached a good age to settle into a thoughtful retirement, he was forced to go on a punishing global book tour.
I omitted to read the section on Henry James because I personally think he's an overated blowhard, but that's my poison. The four sections on Ledyard, Stephans, Taylor, and Twain made this short work more than worth my time.
So, if you've never raced home from work just to pick up any book published by Yale University Press, try this one.Return Passages: Great American Travel Writing, 1780-1910 Overview
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