The book that changed your life: Rick Antonson

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With this year’s edition of the Word on the Street festival set to run from September 28 to 30, we asked some of the writers on the wildly diverse bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which book left deep impressions early on? Which one overhauled the way they see and think about the world, and set them on a path to a literary life?

Here’s what Rick Antonson told us. He’s the president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver and the author of the new travelogue Route 66 Still Kicks: Driving America’s Main Street.

Antonson will be reading from his work at 3:20 p.m. on September 30, in the Canada Writes Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia changed the way many readers looked upon "travel books", and I'd add my name to the list.

It was 1977, and earlier travel narratives lumbered about with tales of species-specific sightings and falling into travelogue traps, or so it seemed. Chatwin sets upon a quest in his opening paragraph, discovering a piece of skin in a family cabinet. “It was a small piece only, but thick and leathery, with strands of coarse, reddish hair." His grandmother tells him this bit of brontosaurus was found in Patagonia by her cousin, a sailor—and thus her possession of the keepsake scrap.

Off goes Chatwin in search of whatever improbably crosses his often directionless path. He wrote that the "Cold War woke in me a passion for geography” for which his readers are thankful. He yards us with him through 96 short, sometimes bumpy chapters, methodically careening from escapade to encounter. To me as a writer, he showed that one can press their nose to the window of another place, nudge against its history, wonder aloud at people met, and share it all with those back home—so long as you embark on a compelling quest.

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