Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Our May Author: Ted Conover

The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World (Vintage)This month we are reading Ted Conover's The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World.  We are big fans of Mr. Conover, having read Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing and Coyotes (and I've also read Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes) so he already feels like an old friend.  His personal website does a good job cataloging his books, articles, interviews and podcasts and you will definitely want to explore the 'extra' features related to Routes which include maps of the book's locations, photos and a video of the Zanskar ice trek.  I enjoyed this Z√≥calo Public Square talk (also available through iTunes) which starts by revisiting some of the ground we traveled with the author in Coyotes and New Jack:

Guernica, as always, has an excellent interview,
Guernica: You said earlier how roads are about “the possibility of something transformative that doesn’t always work out in the way we expect; the inadequacy of our own plans, the fallibility of our intentions.” Are there any examples of failed intentions you saw on your travels?Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

Ted Conover: One of the most baldly failed examples of roads is the highway from Kandahar to Kabul in Afghanistan. On inauguration day, U.S. officials had to fly in because the road was too dangerous. So right there you have someone’s fragment of what a good idea might have been, but then the political reality makes it seem laughable.
And Salon is good too, here tying in last month's Peruvian selection (Red April) and the recent death of Osama Bin Laden:
What’s the scariest moment you had on the road?
Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America's Illegal MigrantsThe most frightening moment I had was probably in Peru. There are a lot of remnants of the Shining Path in the Andes, and one day, I was sitting on the side of the road when a blue butterfly landed on my knee. It was bigger than my hand and a lovely iridescent blue. I brought out a cheap plastic camera I’d bought, to take a picture of it, and a campesino came up to me. He said, in Spanish, If you’d been doing that 10 years ago they would have found you hanging in the tree right there. He meant it was such a bourgeois affectation. Something as innocent as photographing a butterfly!
Five days later, I passed a kid wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt, and I said, I’m from New York, and I knew people in the towers that day, and your T-shirt upsets me. He said, Bin Laden is a champion of the world’s poor. And I said, Well maybe of the Muslim poor, but I don’t think he’s a champion of you. Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes
Maybe it’s because it was so near 9/11, but those two incidents gave me a feeling of passing through an unfriendly place, and it’s not a feeling I often had.
In this brief Atlantic interview Conover talks about trends in travel writing and 'participatory journalism' (although the interview focuses mainly on New Jack, you might also be interested in On the Media's interview with Conover regarding the ethics of undercover reporting). and in this article for The Week, he names his favorite road books.  We've had some great journeys with Rights Readers-- what would you add to his list?
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