What the Editors Are Reading

As the author of a travel book as well as many novels, I’ve often suspected that writing a superior work in the first category is a greater challenge than writing one in the second.  The comparative difficulties become clear when you develop the same material, as nonfiction first and then again as a novel, with the fictive story and characters imposed on the travel account.  The difference has, I suspect, to do with the fact that nonfiction requires a compelling and unique authorial voice to substitute for either the first-person narrator of the novel or, alternately, the voices of the separate characters; and that it is easier to find the voice exactly appropriate to a given fictive character than it is to find it for oneself, as being at once the author and the narrator of the story, which are always two different things, no matter how close they may be.  Add the fact that the author-narrator, all by himself, must do the work of several, or many, or even tens and scores of characters, as in the big novels of the 19th century, and you will begin to see the obstacles the ambitious travel writer, true literary artist, and man or woman of high intellect and real learning combined with superior powers of observation and of memory necessarily faces.

New York Review Books, the press associated with the New York Review of Books, for some years has performed an admirable service by reprinting forgotten or nearly...

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