Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Naked Arrogance of Traveling: A Short Review of Paul Theroux's New Book or It's True--Solvitur Ambulando

Salvitur Ambulando--It is solved by walking.
Walking to ease the mind is also an objective of the pilgrim. There is a spiritual dimension too: the walk is a part of a process of purification. Walking is the age-old form of travel, the most fundamental, perhaps the most revealing.

                                          The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux

I'm reading The Tao of Travel and so these are the things I thought about today on my four-mile walk on this, the hottest day of the year:

I thought about these objects that sit on my book shelves and when I got back home, I took this picture of them: The snake, the feather, the famous monkeys (They have names: from left to right they are Kikazaru, Fuazaru, and Mizaru.), and of course, the Buddha in one of his many representations. They are spiritual objects of course, all of them, sitting up there collecting dust from the cool, shadowy air--spiritual even to this nonthiest.

But I considered the Buddha the most today as I wandered, heat baked and dripping, because Buddhism runs through Theroux's books, The Tao of Travel being no exception. Maybe that's because the Buddha was a great walker, maybe it's because Theroux philosophical inclinations tend toward Buddhism. The Buddha walked, probably barefoot, in the dirt and disease and sacred cow dung and sweltering heat of the Indian subcontinent, and this appeals to Theroux's basic values.
In The Tao of Travel Theroux has collected quotes and anecdotes from other travel writers as well as from his own works, and comments on them with a mind toward establishing a single message, and the message is clear: traveling at its best, by train or by foot, is a way of getting down deep into the tao or essence of things--of our lives, the lives of others, the collective life of the world's peoples.

To that end, hard traveling, preferably alone, is de rigueur as opposed to comfortable, all-inclusive traveling as a tourist which is shameful, shallow, and pointless. Theroux prefers difficult, solitary travel punctuated by sleeplessness, illness, dangerous encounters, and semi-starvation. Critical to the traveler's tao is the realization that the journey itself becomes the destination, that being the eternal outsider is essential, and paradoxically, coming home after such a journey is really what it's all about. Home is bliss.

Theroux is a favorite of mine. We are fellow writers and fellow travelers. I like his complexity, his self-assured crankiness, his arrogance, his courage, his willingness to tolerate the intolerable muck and mess of being out there. And, above all I admire his ability to keep a journal while doing it. Remember, he's rich and famous and need not submit himself to such misery.

And so, I understood his reaction when an interviewer suggested that this book is "blog-like." He bristled at the suggestion and I understand why. Most blogs are like tourist travel: shallow and pointless. The Tao of Travel though, is well thought out and has as its great central theme the idea that all humanity is one, but that to witness that one-ness, to truly understand it, one must have the arrogance and courage to strip down to one's own naked being and go out there and put yourself at humanity's mercy.

That, I think now, is what traveling is all about--an arrogant, naked love for the world.

Post Script

While on my sweating, dripping walk today, I stopped at the post office and mailed out the manuscript of my next novel. This is naked arrogance, this assumption that a publisher would appreciate receiving such a thing---something I wrote, boxed up with studied professionalism, carefully addressed, lovingly handled. And it is an exercise in Buddhism, being mindful as the postal clerk stamps and seals and chats and takes my money and drops the box into one of those big canvas mail bags.

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