Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mount TBR #34

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Travelers and Travel Liars, 1660-1800 - Percy G. Adams

When I lived overseas, I wrote letters and a zine about expatriate life, thus becoming a travel writer of sorts. I had the irresistible impulse at times to stretch the truth to make the topic more vivid and real. But even when giving in to impulse prevailed, I never came close to the whoppers that travel liars told in the age of exploration and expansion. For instance, suspect reports about native peoples provided the basis for Rousseau’s ideas of the “noble savage,” a cultural stereotype that is still very much with us today, especially in the TV dystopias that are so popular today.

In my job, I often gather information, compare sources and decide where the truth is likely to be found. Adams was quite an inspiration because he’s skillful at going over differing accounts in order to figure out who plagiarized whom or exactly how and why, for example, the reputation of Capt. Bligh was besmirched. He also reveals the truth behind faking about the giants  of Patagonia, the Mississippi valley explorations that were never made by Hennepin and the tall tales of Lahontan and the respected Chateaubriand. There are many more topics in this relatively short book.

Readers interested in the history of travel narratives and literary history will get a kick out of this book. Adams makes a persuasive argument that travel books were the major influence on the evolution of the novel, especially the picaresques such as Smolett’s Roderick Random. At the very least, he persuades me that there are very fine distinctions to be made among geographical tomes to memoirs by captains to embellished tales to plagiarized materials to tall tales to outrageous hoaxes.

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