John Burnside

Planet Song



The Bodley Head 572pp £25 order from our bookshop

What makes a great travel writer is not the distance he or she covers, or the variety of mysterious and glamorous locations visited, but the quality of the pauses taken along the way. Pauses for thought, pauses to look past what is on show and, most of all, pauses to remember – with due humility – what a privilege it is to travel at all. So when Barry Lopez pauses, on a journey in some faraway, exotic-seeming place, to remark that his chief duty is to ‘carry some of this home’ and to understand that ‘what you’ve found are not your things, but our things’, he is recalling the time-honoured obligation of those who go on journeys, whether for adventure, trade or research, to bring news of the wider world to ‘people who are not able to travel to Lake Clifton’. Once, any itinerant craftsman or trader who went from village to village plying his skills was a source of news, someone whose tidings enriched the communities he touched – and this is what Lopez has done for decades, renewing our sense of the entire planet (and not just our own small circle of friends, cares and obligations) as home.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,