World Hum’s Top-30 travel books: Video Night in Kathmandu


World Hum‘s, countdown of the top-30 travel books of all time finishes today. Late last week, I reviewed Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu (#8), of which I wrote:

A collection of eleven essays chronicling the cultural fusion of East and West in the 1980s, Iyer’s literary debut is an answer to all those critics who claim that great travel writing died once the terra incognita was mapped. As this Asia-themed collection shows, the final frontier of adventure isn’t located on some distant mountain or impenetrable jungle, but in the intimate (and often comical) cross-cultural fascinations and discoveries that arise from an ever-shrinking world.

Amid his sharp reportage and analysis, Video Night in Kathmandu‘s greatest strength is Iyer’s refusal to draw prim moral conclusions as Western popular culture bumps up against the traditions of the East. Instead, he casts things in terms of a tenuous romance. “When Westerner meets Easterner,” Iyer writes, “each finds himself often drawn to the other, yet mystified; each projects his romantic hopes on the stranger, as well as his designs; and each pursues both his illusions and his vested interests with a curious mix of innocence and calculation that shifts with every step.” Moreover, the author’s eye for ironic juxtapositions—Rambo-inspired musicals in India, baseball fever in Japan, Mowhawk haircuts in Bali—proves so keen that he practically inaugurates the now-common “cultural-contradiction” travel-story template. Even if the specific cross-cultural obsessions of “Video Night” (Michael Jackson, Rambo) seem a bit dated, the ensuing rise of globalization and reach of the Internet have only underscored how relevant Iyer’s observations were.

The full index of World Hum’s Top 30 travel books can be found here. If you disagree with the World Hum list, or have your own suggestions for a travel book worthy of Top 30 consideration, post at the World Hum forum, or send them an email and let them know what you think!

Posted by | Comments (1)  | May 31, 2006
Category: Travel Writing

One Response to “World Hum’s Top-30 travel books: Video Night in Kathmandu”

  1. Raghav Says:

    I am currently reading Pico Iyer’s Falling off the map. It’s a great read and a travelogue that he undertook around the same time he wrote this book. It is brilliantly funny at times and I am looking forward to reading this book next.

    Thanks for posting this blog it was a good read