AWOL: absent without leave; absent from one’s post or duty without official permission but without intending to desert. Originally a military term, it gradually entered the vernacular for when someone goes missing unexpectedly. Jennifer Barclay and Amy Logan thought it fit well with the kind of travel pieces they wanted to publish -- irreverent but thoughtful, emotionally honest and opinionated, bold and provocative. AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds would be dedicated to the perspectives we gain when away from our regular circumstances. They were tired of opening newspaper travel sections to accounts of five-star hotels or hip restaurants, package holidays and cruises, or extreme, death-defying feats. The tales that excited them were more personal. They wanted to bring back a sense of wonder about the world out there. “Rejecting the consumerist attitude of always wanting something better, which seems to go hand in hand with the concept of extreme travel, we wanted to show that there are different kinds of adventures -- the ones that are more by-the-seat-of-your-pants and that all of us can afford. It’s about slowing down the way we travel, learning to observe and to relish all the moments.” Inviting authors to contribute, they stressed they weren’t looking for detached reportage, but unpublished true tales of pleasure or pain or hilarity that would move and inspire. “Travel has become an important aspect of our lives, and we felt it was important to explore what we get out of it: Whether it makes us better citizens of the planet or enriches our lives. How discovering the world can be about discovering yourself, or help you see life afresh.” They wanted writing that was exciting and creative, that fired the imagination, dazzled with language, captured something emblematic or unique. The stories are full of telling details and do not shirk from emotion. The trips range from a short break close to home, to years living on the other side of the world. When Rick Maddocks leaves for Mexico, his father says “I hope you find what you’re searching for.” But you don’t always find what you expect. “What was I expecting…?” asks Andrew Pyper on arriving in Brazil. Karen Connelly tries to switch off the chattering of her brain in Burma, so she can just “shut up and see.” After a year in China, Rui Umezawa is utterly disoriented: “The world as I’d known it no longer existed. Neither did the man I believed myself to be.” However far or near you travel, an AWOL destination is a place where, says Brad Smith, “the usual rules don’t apply.” Myrna Kostash muses, roaming through Greece, “I cannot be further away from the rest of my life.” But when Camilla Gibb comes home from Ethiopia, her own culture seems bleak, “devoid of all colour, all meaning.”The authors in AWOL have collectively won or been nominated for practically every literary prize in Canada, making it an extraordinary collection of original writing. The editors also decided to add another dimension to the book, a sense of fun and accessibility, by pasting in trip memorabilia -- tickets, snaps, sketches and odd mementoes -- to divide up the text and draw the reader into the stories. They wanted AWOL to feel a bit like a magazine: a reader-friendly paperback with big pages and great design, something to read on the bus for inspiration and escape, or to amble through at the cottage.The Toronto Star called AWOL a “decidedly quirky collection that follows no obvious theme or point of departure -- except the delicious need to go away.” If travel is about broadening the mind and having fun, AWOL is to get us through the rest of the year. The Winnipeg Free Press called it “an all-encompassing armchair travel experience … the kind of collection that, once read, will beckon from the bookshelf to fill a particular longing when it strikes.” For those who dream of having no fixed address, and those happy simply to read about it, AWOL is filled with entertaining, enriching and edifying stories of people getting away from the familiar.
| Vintage Books, February 1, 2003, cover price $18.00 | About this edition:
AWOL: absent without leave; absent from one’s post or duty without official permission but without intending to desert.
| Vintage Books, July 30, 2010, cover price $24.00