BOOK: "A Sense of Place," by Michael Shapiro (Travelers' Tales, $18.95)
TARGET AUDIENCE: People who like Hollywood "the making of" documentaries, only this time it's "how Frances Mayes writes" rather than "how Spiderman flies."
QUICK TAKE: Eighteen noted travel writers -- Peter Matthiessen to Simon Winchester, Bill Bryson to Paul Theroux -- talk in a Q&A setting about travel, writing and, um, travel writing. Shapiro functions as a (slightly) less long-winded Charlie Rose. He's done his homework, seeming to know the books as well as their authors do.
He elicits philosophies of travel (Jan Morris says, "Grin like a dog and run about the city") as well as homely advice (Tim Cahill: "Never go shark diving with a guy that's only got one arm"). He asks many of the same questions of different authors, obtaining, for example, a consensus that traveling as an outsider is more likely to leave you open to the thrill of discovery. But he also lets the interviewee set the pace. Thus Arthur Frommer is allowed to ramble, giving us a surprising, delightful reminiscence of post-World War II Europe as viewed by a young GI.
RANT: This book could be bad for marriages, as several writers insist that the travel writer must travel solo. Says Jonathan Raban, "Coupledom is the enemy of travel."
RAVE: Encouraging words from Pico Iyer: "The more things go wrong, the better the stories we will bring back."
-- Jerry V. Haines