I have a deep, almost pathological, wanderlust. It started when I was a kid hitchhiking and riding freight trains around the country, hitting some 45 states by the time I was 21. One of the great things about freight-hopping was that I never really knew where I was going. I could see that the track was heading east or west, but I never knew when the train I was on might veer north or south. And even now, my favorite way to travel is without an itinerary or predetermined goal, the farther off the beaten path the better—nothing makes me happier than going to countries at the bottom of other people’s lists.
This map shows the countries I have been to so far:
I have collected some moments from my travels in my books Drinking Mare’s Milk on the Roof of the World(2016), And the Monkey Learned Nothing (2017), and The Kindness of Strangers (2020), and have started on a fourth. Portraits features portraits of people from fifty countries.
The wandering omnivorousness at the base of the travel books animates my other work as well. When American Nervousness, 1903 was published, it showed up in bookstores in the psychology section, in American history, in literary criticism, in cultural studies, and in history of medicine. When I wrote about weeping in Crying, I rambled from the 14th century BCE to the present, from the US to Tierra del Fuego to New Zealand to Europe and Japan, and looked through the lenses of psychology, neurophysiology, sociology, literary history, art history, anthropology, and other disciplines. When I wrote Doing Nothing, I again roamed the disciplines, roamed the world, and roamed through the centuries. Born Slippy takes place in Massachusetts, California, Jakarta, Hong Kong, and Taipei. Archipelago roams from Burma to South Asia to Madagascar, with many of the Indian Ocean islands in between. Aimlessness takes this wandering as its material and its method.
I want to go everywhere, at least in part because I am an encyclopedist at heart, as projects like Los Angeles Review of Books show. The world is large and complex, and I’m interested in it all. In my latest project, 1925: A Literary Encyclopedia, I kept myself confined to a single year, but ended up with a book that will be almost 1,000 pages….
“Gadabout” started as a little joke for my web designer, Nanda Dyssou, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to fit.