Anywhere Out of the World

Essays on Travel, Writing, Death

By Nicholas Delbanco
Columbia University Press, Hardcover, 9780231133845, 208pp.

Publication Date: March 2005

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Nicholas Delbanco--who, John Updike says, "wrestles with the abundance of his gifts as a novelist the way other men wrestle with their deficiencies"--ventures forth to discover and illuminate various writers and places. In this follow-up to his acclaimed "The Lost Suitcase," Delbanco weaves varied reflections to reveal a singular understanding of the relationships among literature, the past, and the world around us.

Describing trips to such diverse destinations as Namibia; Afghanistan; Bellagio, Italy; and the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Delbanco conveys the wonder and the apprehension of visiting new places. However, he goes beyond commonplace travelogues, examining our desire to travel and to write and read about distant lands. In the title essay, which surveys the state of travel and travel writing in a world that has grown smaller and less strange, he explores the continuing allure of new locales and the ways in which familiar places change in our imagination over time.

Delbanco's reflections on literature look to past writers and literary traditions as a way of enriching the present. Delbanco begins by asking us to reconsider society's infatuation with novelty and proposes the paradoxical notion of imitation as a source of originality. Remembering his friendships with two colorful departed figures, John Gardner and James Baldwin, and celebrating the now somewhat--and regrettably--neglected works of John Fowles and Ford Madox Ford, he pays tribute to these writers' generosity of spirit and commitment to literature.

In "Strange Type," Delbanco explores his own recent brush with death. Here too, he draws on a range of subjects and reflections, describing his recovery from heart problems via a poem by Malcolm Lowry, the surprising persistence of typos despite advances in word-processing technology, and Ernest Hemingway as literary celebrity.

About the Author
Nicholas Delbanco Nick Delbanco is the Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan, where he formerly directed the prestigious Hopwood Awards Program in creative writing and where the Delbanco Prize was established in his honor for students who need financial assistance to attend the Hopwood Program (only 25 students are admitted each year). He is also a co-founder (together with the late John Gardner) of the Bennington Writing Workshops As the Delbanco Prize implies, Nick is a beloved teacher and through his teaching has been in the thick of the modern literary scene. His students have praised his enormous frame of literary reference, his eagerness to devour a new work, and his ability to home in on its weaknesses. Richard Tillinghast, a poet and colleague at Michigan, said of Nick, When you have someone with an eye and ear like Nick's, you can really learn a lot about what talents you have and how to use them. Describing Nick s teaching style, the New York Times said, Mr. Delbanco delights in horrifying his students by urging them to imitate rather than innovate. He tells them that imitation is the surest route to originality and warns against self-expression, self-discovery. His students also talk of his sociability (he loves a good story, to tell it and to hear it), his honesty, and his devotion to his students. One student said, He gave me confidence when I had no confidence. He's also very blunt and honest. He has no problem tossing your manuscript back at you and saying, 'This stinks.' He would dismantle me and then take me into his office and tell me I could be a writer. Nick has won several awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two Writer s Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the author of twenty-four books of fiction and non-fiction, a frequent contributor to Harper s, and often seen in the New York Times. Some have called him a writer s writer --to which he replies it's hard to see it as an insult at all. The worst you could say is that it's a kind way of saying nobody buys your books. He has written a previous McGraw-Hill text, The Sincerest Form: Writing Fiction through Imitation. His most recent novel is The Count of Concord, a work of historical fiction that tells the tale of Count Rumford: inventor of the coffeepot, philosopher, and spy (among other things). The Chicago Sun says, Novelist Nicholas Delbanco has done us a great service by rescuing Rumford from obscurity In The Count of Concord we see a veteran novelist working at the height of his powers.
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