James Robinson used to write a blog for Stuff.co.nz – it documented his time living in America, seeking out work as a freelance writer; it drew on his experiences in New Zealand and when he returned home – wherever home was. As the blog continued over a couple of years and a few hundred posts it seemed the home wasn’t quite America and wasn’t just what had happened in New Zealand, it was the place that James carried with him. Taking “home” through America as he attempted/attempts to make a home in America. Bringing it all back with him when returning to New Zealand.
Those experiences, and many of the best writings from that thrice-weekly slog of hacking out words for a usually ungrateful audience have been turned into a book of the same name, Voyages in America. The blog was decommissioned, culled. Robinson decided to close off his time writing that – huge chapters of his life – by making it into a book. He crowd-funded the operation, self-publishing a work that features key pieces from the life of the blog with new essays to contextualise; he’s managed, with great skill and plenty of thought, to translate his words up and away from the world of the web, these aren’t just brain-dumps and blog-posts, they’re now essays, think-pieces, chapters in a book.
Not quite a travel book, not just a memoir, Voyages in America reads well – and even when it’s a breeze that shouldn’t suggest that the writing is light. James has a way with the word and his writings here always speak to what blogging should be about – the diary-writing of this age. This is a person writing as much to understand himself as the world around him, there’s never any preaching, nothing lofty, there’s an economy of language that matches the thoughtfulness of these pieces. The new essays, longer pieces which set the scene, creating topics, introducing themes, show much in the way of reflection. And the re-worked, carefully selected blog topics show a huge range – from travel pieces to journalistic assignments, simple trips to the supermarket or furniture store, the fixation with sport in America and New Zealand, those little differences. There’s a lot here about family. And then there’s the conflict that James seems to wrestle with forever now. Where is the “here” that he is from? And how is an identity shaped by travel and experiences.
Voyages in America clearly has found an audience off the pages of the internet and within the pages of a book. I was proud reading this – for many reasons, not least of all because I had some small hand, as a fellow Stuff blogger, in introducing James to that world. I contributed a guest blog to Voyages in America, he contributed a couple of guest-posts to my Blog On The Tracks.
It’s nice to see his work wasn’t wasted as people move on to hit the back button and F5 and ctrl-C/ctrl-V elsewhere around that mad world of the internet. Voyages in America suits its shape as a book. It looks good. And I enjoyed revisiting what was always appointment-reading in its previous guise.
You can buy the book directly from James’s site or look for it around certain corners of the internet such as Amazon or in the good old fashioned bookstores – here in New Zealand. And there in America.