Sure, guidebooks help, but great writing can really bring a place to life. Publisher and writer James Atlas has launched a series of travel accounts by literary lions. Atlas Pocket Classics France (Atlas & Co., $45; available at atlasandco.com) includes works from Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edith Wharton. This fall, look for Atlas Pocket Classics Italy. Here, Atlas tells T+L how pieces from the past still have relevance for travelers in modern Europe.
How do you intend for people to use the series?
If you go to Venice, Rome, or Tuscany and read Henry James essays, they’re so evocative. The essence of those cities hasn’t changed.
How much of this literature is still relevant?
These stories enable you to see places as they once were—and what remains. You can still visit the châteaux and cathedrals the writers mention.
Is there a universal takeaway for today’s travelers?
We can learn to slow down. There’s this sense in these books of dawdling— the writers were in no great hurry. In A Motor-Flight Through France, Edith Wharton wrote about a moment of transformation when the car was introduced. Reading her account becomes about more than just visiting a place that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s about learning how to see in the present.