Susan Orlean on Travel in Dark Times

In her introduction to My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere, author Susan Orlean writes about “travel writing in the new world that 9/11 seemed to have brought forth”:

Should anyone write about — or read about — what it’s like to snowshoe through Alaska or raft in Costa Rica when the world seemed to be falling apart? Would anyone in his or her right mind have any interest in leaving home when the universe seemed so threatening? What I said then, and still believe, is that human beings are stubbornly and persistently curious and that I can’t imagine we will ever lose our desire to know about what lies beyond our immediate horizon. At a time when the world feels chaotic and frightening, writers who go out to see it and describe it seem more important, not less. Even fluffy, expository stories about pretty places matter if people are less inclined to travel, since then the writer acts as the reader’s proxy, bringing back the world that most people might be reluctant to go out and see for themselves. At the most elemental level, the world’s troubles are the result of people turning inward and turning away from whatever and whoever is different and unfamiliar. If a writer can make even one reader feel more open to someone or someplace new, I think he or she has accomplished something well worth doing.

I think the same thing could be said about the version of trying times we seem to be entering now.