One of the great falsities of "travel literature" is the idea that we lurch into strange lands, eyes turned mostly outward. The truth is quite the opposite: Staring out at passing landscapes often turns us inward, as do the static hours spent waiting for connecting flights or buses. James Salter seems to understand this, and in this collection of his occasional travel writing, the PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of Dusk and Other Stories spends most of his time attending to shades of light and mood. Here are visits to the Hamptons, skiing in the Alps and a biking trip across Japan as experienced by a literary impressionist. As a result of Salter's light touch, some of these pieces read like prose poems. He recalls the turn of seasons in Colorado, the swirl of life in postwar Paris. His essays on France are the only sour note in the book, their snobbery curdling to something slightly acidic. The best pieces here make Salter's memories feel like our own. "A long hot bath, half a bottle of wine and a chicken pie at the pub just down the road seemed as great a luxury as I can remember," he writes in a piece about walking across England, "and I fell into bed with the rain pouring down."
There & Then: The Travel Writing of James Salter
(Shoemaker & Hoard, 296 pages)