Dan Sandman

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

#17 Pages from a Scullion’s Diary

In Autobiography, Biography, Books, Non-Fiction, Travel on 21/04/2017 at 12:00 pm

#17 Pages from a Scullion's Diary.JPGThis great little book, taken from the more expansive Down and Out in London and Paris, sees George Orwell in autobiographical mode. As his journalism and essays prove, Orwell likes to seek out stories; rather than wait for stories to come to him. The experiences he writes about here are presented in clear and concise English. In many ways, Orwell is the antidote to those lacking clarity and to those lacking meaning in their writing. Although Orwell is more famous for his dystopian fiction, his factual writing sets the bar for anyone interested in non-fiction and travel writing with a political edge.

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37: Oxford by Martin Garrett

In Books, History, Literature, Music, Non-Fiction, Travel on 09/09/2016 at 12:00 pm

oxford-by-martin-garrettThis excellent guidebook is presented as a series of essays on the historic city of Oxford. Each chapter focuses on a different cultural aspect of the city: from its long history to its place in literature; and everything in between. Be prepared for a fair amount of literary quotes and humorous anecdotes, as you dip into this fascinating and insightful book. For example, did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien once drove a whole bunch of undergraduates through town in a stolen bus? Well, now you will.

In a style which is equal parts authoritative and amusing, Martin Garrett guides you with erudition and a perfectly light tone. Rather than presenting a series of facts (i.e. punting in oxford lasts until October) or giving you tips on restaurants and sights of interest, Garrett presents a cultural and an historic guide to Oxford in the manner of the good old-fashioned essay. The result is a relatively recent book (published 2014) which is less likely to date as changes are made to bus timetables and hotels readdress their website URLs. A trusted companion for someone new to city, or a welcome reminder for those who wish to reminisce.

And I am certainly in the second category, having lived in Oxford as a Brookes undergraduate, and shortly after as a bookseller. Oh Oxford! Oh poetry! Oh! Well you get the idea. Anyway, this Tuesday I return to my second home; from the metropolis which was named London many moons ago (and what Tolkien might have had in mind when he created Mordor). It also happens to be my birthday, and a beautiful time of the year for falling leaves and pleasantly mild climes.

Can’t wait to revisit places of old.

31: A Moment of War by Laurie Lee

In Autobiography, Books, Non-Fiction, Travel on 29/07/2016 at 12:00 pm

A Moment of War by Laurie LeeIn order to fight the rise of fascism in Europe, many foreigners signed up to partake in the Spanish Civil War, including Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Laurie Lee. This third installment of Laurie Lee’s autobiography is about his war experiences in Spain. It took many years for him to publish and was probably composed with some difficulty.

The language is sharper than in Lee’s previous memoirs, which are a vivid and full celebration of the beauty and humanity that surrounded him during his childhood and on his original travels to Spain. We hear now of battles being fought, shells exploding and wrongful imprisonment. As Lee gets caught up somewhere in the chaotic disarray of the war, the action stumbles in logical sequence from post to post. In place of sentiment or heightened emotion, we have a cool style where what is left unsaid can be as intriguing as the words left on the page. Unlike any history book, Lee shows the failings of his own side without the need for any essays on Spanish politics or German troop movements. The work is done by simply telling his own story as honestly and plainly as he can, and without completely loosing the impressionistic aesthetic which has made his work so popular over the years.

For the general reader there is much here to be appreciated. Personally, there is one paragraph at the end of chapter eight that will always stick in my mind for the way it deals with death as a result of war. I think readers are right to wonder why travelers should volunteer for foreign wars in distant lands, especially when they are likely to be faced with the horrific consequences of military action directly. War is terrible and leads to the destruction of love and life. Literary books about war remind us that whenever and wherever we see horror and terror in the world, there are a series of infinitely complex stories behind the simple images we consume each day.

This is but one.

30: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee

In Autobiography, Books, Non-Fiction, Travel on 22/07/2016 at 12:00 pm

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie LeeLaurie Lee is the highly acclaimed writer whose work exemplifies the beauty and flexibility of the English language. In richly layered brushstrokes, Lee applies an aesthetic to the canvas which is reminiscent of the great impressionists of the late nineteenth century. His median is not paint, but in step with the likes of Pissaro and Monet he works lavishly with the colours, smells and sounds of the people and places which form his subject matter. His writing, like so much great art, appeals to the senses and therefore has a sensuous quality which transcends the simplicity of the words on the page alone. Lee’s prose is poetic in terms of its use of imagery but also in its ability to stress the importance of the word formations themselves.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is the autobiographical story of what happened to the Laurie Lee after he left his family in Slad, Gloucester. It starts out in London, where he worked hard on a few building sites and got tangled up in a few protest marches for workers’ rights. It then swiftly moves on to Spain on the brink of civil, whose threatening power tangentially lingers somewhere in the background of his experiences busking out a living with a nearly broken violin. Eventually though, the war catches up with Lee’s stories of late drinking as a hotel entertainer, or kipping where he can on almost anyone’s sofa or spare mattress. Following the epilogue, the story is left open for another sequel, which I will soon be reviewing.

I think this book could be taught by  English teachers in schools to demonstrate how important style can be with certain types of life or travel writing. We all live interesting lives, with moments of epiphany, ups and downs, and journeys into the heart of what it means to be a human being living within a particular point of space-time. Only through expressive language can we draw people away from their own version of reality and into a world where words become pictures, music or the gentle breeze of a midsummer day. The internet is full to the brim with factual knowledge, but it the story that we all have inside us and the way in which we bring it out in to the world that counts for everything.

Good autobiographic writing can teach this.

25: An Egyptian Journal by William Golding

In Autobiography, Books, Non-Fiction, Travel on 17/06/2016 at 12:00 pm

An Egyptian Journal by William GoldingIn his later years, William Golding was asked by his publisher to write a travel book about Egypt. Setting course along the Nile with his wife Ann, Golding kept a journal of his daily experiences on board ship and on shore, which he subsequently used as material for this book. In addition to his journal, Golding took photographs for inclusion in the final publication. The final result was a highly readable piece of prolonged journalism which explored Egypt’s ancient ruins and political present.

Throughout, we are treated to rare insights into the mind of a much-loved writer. What comes across is Golding’s often self-effacing sense of humour; especially when he writes about his meeting with the Secretary for Culture (where both sides knowingly downplay their own importance). Also present is the writer’s humanism, which is rooted by the liberal tradition of the writers that preceded him. Golding has the ability to see past the ‘pharoni’ (phony tourist things), and to highlight the human experience of the Egyptian people he meets.

My mother and I found this beautifully made, secondhand book downstairs in Foyles bookshop on Charring Cross Road last January. Being an avid reader, my mother read it before I did; and for a while now, it has taken residence within her collection. However, as will inevitably happen — after being side-tracked for several months by other readily endeavors — I am finally about to finish Golding’s singular foray into travel writing.

The final pages ready themselves for turning past numbered chapters.

02: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

In Autobiography, Books, Non-Fiction, Travel on 08/01/2016 at 12:00 pm

Dog in Primrose Hill‘I’m going to turn 52books.me into a book based memoir. That’s my new idea.’ 10.22 AM

‘Awesome’ 10.34 AM

‘How?’ 10:34 AM

‘It begins with a story’ 10:34 AM

Pressing the home button on my Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, I carried on typing into the computer. I had a good opening sentence, supplemented with a short footballing anecdote. That was on Friday.

On Sunday, my mother and I went to Foyles bookshop on Charring Cross Road. When I was a child, my father would occasionally take me there.

‘You used to have to ask for the book and they’d bring it to you.’ Said my mother. We were sat in the cafe on the fifth floor.

‘Dad used to say that.’ I replied.

We took the lift down to the travel section on the Lower Ground. My mother was now walking with one crutch, following her hip operation.

‘It’s not listed under Literary Biography.’ I said, referring to the book where Steinbeck travels around with his dog.