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Getting About

Travel Writings of William F. Buckley Jr.

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 464 pages
ISBN: 9781641773171
AVAILABLE: 4/18/2023

Getting About
Travel Writings of William F. Buckley Jr.

Well known as a political commentator and the author of sixteen novels, William F. Buckley Jr. was also a superb chronicler of travel. Getting About gathers more than one hundred of his articles about journeys by boat, train, or plane, representing a lifetime of adventure around the world—from Annapolis to Zurich, from the Azores to the Virgin Islands.

An elegant jet-setter with a flair for literary journalism, Buckley had few rivals in the art of travel writing. He took first place in the Magazine Article on Foreign Travel category in the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition for eight pieces written while “Concording around the world” in 1989. A master storyteller, he adeptly wove devices of fiction together with reportage to craft entertaining pieces full of exuberance and authority. Being a Bach aficionado, he composed his sentences for a well-tuned ear.

Buckley’s talent for arranging a mise-en-scène stands out in accounts of riding the Orient Express, skiing at Alta, or vacationing at Barbuda. Though himself a central character in the story, he never dominates it. He wrote candidly about travel misadventures, as when his sixty-foot schooner broke down in the Bahamas and was towed to Miami by a Coast Guard cutter, or when a malfunctioning compass landed his boat on a rocky shoal off Rhode Island and the Coast Guard said, “Sorry, we can’t help you.” He also took a gimlet eye to the travel industry and a discriminating palate to airline food, suggesting that airports sell “a really good box lunch” with celery rémoulade, fresh figs, and a nice Bordeaux.

Getting About is pure enjoyment, but it also broadens the significance of Buckley’s œuvre. Along with Bill Meehan’s illuminating introduction, this delightful collection helps preserve Buckley’s legacy as his centenary, in 2025, approaches.

About the Authors

William F. Buckley, Jr., was the author of fifty previous works of fiction and nonfiction. The founder and former editor-in-chief of National Review and former host of Firing Line, he was one of the intellectual leaders of the right since the 1950s. His syndicated column, “On the Right,” began in 1962 and appeared in newspapers around the country. He served as a CIA agent in the early 1950s, helped found the Young Americans for Freedom in 1960, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H.W. Bush in 1991.

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BILL MEEHAN is editor of William F. Buckley Jr.: A Bibliography (ISI Books, 2002) and Conversations with William F. Buckley Jr. (University Press of Mississippi, 2009).

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When it came to writing about travels, few journalists could rival William F. Buckley Jr. Author of sixteen novels, Buckley was a master storyteller who skillfully balanced the apparently conflicting devices of fiction with the elements of reporting to create entertaining travel pieces suffused with exuberance and authority. With a flair for literary journalism, a fondness for friendship, and a passion for fun, Buckley was an elegant jet-setter whose travel writings deserve compiling into a single volume. These selections—spanning nearly a lifetime of adventures on boats, trains, and planes around the world for work or pleasure—broaden the scope and deepen the significance of Buckley’s oeuvre. The collection also helps preserve Buckley’s legacy as his centenary, in 2025, approaches.

            But why now a book about travel and travel writing, when the landscape for the genre appears to be shifting? The New York Times, for example, dropped its thick travel section from the Sunday paper, then brought it back as a weekly page. National Geographic Traveler, a reputable brand, discontinued its US edition, and Lonely Planet, the most trusted name in guide books, rethought its collection of newly offered titles. Perhaps the most important development took place when the Best American Travel Writing, an anthology published annually for twenty-two years, released its final volume in 2021. Reacting to this news, Thomas Swick at Lithub suggested that the genre has “mystifyingly lost its allure.” But has it? I side with author Carl Thompson, who believes, “Travel writing is currently a flourishing and highly popular literary genre […] [R]ecent decades have undoubtedly witnessed a travel writing ‘boom,’ and this boom shows no signs of abating in the near future.” Although Thompson made those claims more than a decade ago in his book Travel Writing, some evidence supports embracing it today. Take the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition. Recognizing “excellence in the field” since 1985, and administered by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation, this prestigious contest received 1,278 entries in thirty-seven categories for material produced in 2020—a year when travel was, to say the least, uncertain due to the worldwide pandemic.

            Demonstrating the genre’s resiliency, as well, technology has facilitated the growth of blogs, newsletters, multimedia presentations, and social-media platforms as vibrant outlets. What is more, travel writing has sustained a gradual ascent in academia arguably ever since the publication of Paul Fussell’s 1980 pioneering book Abroad: British Literary Travel Between the Wars. Once thought too “popular” for legitimate Ivory Tower scholarship, travel writing is now an acceptable field of inquiry—although a) much of it is informed by trendy themes and b) a commercially successful author like Paul Theroux still might be thought lowbrow. Which brings up the travel writer’s motivation. Jan Lukacs “travel[ed] to certain places because of their history” and later gathered the essays into a wonderful book, Destinations Past, which he maintains “is not really a travel book, and… not travel-writing.” But it really is. In the soul of every travel writer resides the pedagogue, whose wanderlust inspires a personally fulfilling journey of discovery to be shared with readers. For the travel writing journalist, however, there’s one measure of success: “A story,” writes doyen of travel Tim Cahill, “is the essence of the travel essay. Readers want something that holds their attention. They want to be entertained and informed.”

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