cover image Anywhere Out of the World: Essays on Travel, Writing, Death

Anywhere Out of the World: Essays on Travel, Writing, Death

Nicholas Delbanco. Columbia University Press, $35 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-231-13384-5

The life of a writing professor may strike some people as fairly tame and unglamorous, but Delbanco (The Lost Suitcase) offers up this collection of essays as evidence to the contrary. Though travel gets top billing in the list of subjects the collection purportedly covers, the journeys in this book are more literary than literal: the title essay explores the idea and practice of travel writing in all of its many forms. But Delbanco has done a fair amount of globe-trotting himself, as is evident in the highly readable ""Letter from Namibia,"" the one piece devoted exclusively to a voyage, and in not-so-casual asides (""we too passed through the Hindu Kush from Kabul to Jalalabad"") and anecdotes (in one essay, he describes how he was ""one of those fortunate few"" selected to visit the Rockefeller estate in Sicily). Unfortunately, Delbanco's writing too often recalls dry university lectures; his dissections of books, particularly in his sprawling essays on Ford Madox Ford and John Fowles, can be tiresome. The essays are also, as he readily acknowledges, filled with ""literary name-dropping"" and quotations, a technique he explicitly endorses in the final essay, ""In Defense of Quotation,"" which takes its inspiration from the fact that so many cities share the same name (i.e., France's Paris and Texas's Paris). This essay is a nice bookend to the persuasive opening piece, ""In Praise of Imitation,"" but the contents in between, while sometimes engaging, are unlikely to appeal to anyone but devotees of literary criticism.