One of this year’s Read Harder tasks was to read a “Best _ Writing of the year” book for a topic and year of your choice. I had a couple ideas and went perusing through my library catalog to see what I could come up with. And then I saw The Best American Travel Writing 2020 edited by Jason Wilson and the absurdity of these pandemic years meant that this one won out. Consider me intrigued to know what won out in a year that no one travelled very far.
In reality these pieces were written in 2019 when the world was still travelling and selected in spring 2020 when it stopped. But from their forewords series editor Jason Wilson and edition editor Robert Macfarlane it is apparent that the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic effected their choices.
I found this particular collection to be very uneven in content and quality. I enjoyed about half of the pieces included, but for most enjoyed is perhaps a stretch. For far too many I caught myself skimming. Only a few really held my attention: Life, Death, and the Border Patrol by Jackie Bryant where she writes about the humanitarian work undertaken by hikers caching supplies for migrants, What I Learned in Avalanche School by Heidi Julavits which chronicles the author’s choice to go to Avalanche School and what that experience was like, My Father’s Land by Courtney Desiree Morris which delves into the embedded racism in tourist attractions – historical or otherwise, and Vacation Memories Marred by the Indelible Stain of Racism by Shanna B. Tiayon where the discrimination becomes directed squarely on one family in a National Park.
Based on my own work the final two of those pieces struck me as the most pressing, but that isn’t to say runner up pieces such as How to Mourn a Glacier by Lacy M. Jones, Glow by James Lasdun, and The Last of the Great American Hobos by Jeff MacGregor didn’t have their strengths. I’m ignoring the rest which dragged my rating down. Instead I want to mention that as of 2021 this series has been cancelled by the publisher, and even though this particular edition didn’t give me a lot personally the depth and breadth of the kinds of writing which qualify as “travel” writing do deserve a spotlight (there is no writing award for the category) so I am sad that this process will no longer exist, to catalogue what the writing looks like.
Bingo Square: Font (travel is a font of knowledge, as are essay collections. Plus the font on the cover dominates the design and sets a mood.)