Literary travels: Following Tocqueville Through Joyce's Dublin In Dr. Johnson's Scotland; In the Footsteps of Johnson and Boswell: A Modern Day Journey through Scotland, by Israel Shenker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 320 pp. $12.95.
This book by Israel Shenker, who resigned his job as a reporter for the New York Times to make the journey and write the book, might conceivably run a closer parallel to its predecessor of centuries ago if it had two authors. As Shenker himself points out: ''One could depend on Johnson for the account laconic, on Boswell for the narration expansive and circumstantial.'' Each supplied what the other lacked.
Shenker's wife, it is true, accompanied him for much of the trip, going from Edinburgh up the East Coast, over the top, and back down the West Coast (including visits to such islands as Skye and Mulle -- a ''vale of beauty and gloom'' -- and Coll and Iona) to Glasgow. But her voice isn't heard in the sizable chunks of this entertaining and informative book which, one suspects, are transcribed from tape.
And Mrs. Forbes, a local who sportingly accompanied Shenker on a hilarious and wryly inaccurate attempt to trace the road taken by the two original authors from Fort Augustus across the hills to Glen Moriston -- a road now overwhelmed by the Forestry Commission and puddles full of tadpoles - can't truly be described as the Johnson to his Boswell, or vice versa. Amusing play is made, however, of her overdetailed attempts en route to fill the abyss of his urban ignorance with fresh insight into things natural. To this extent she can be called ''expansive.''
Finally, Mr. Shenker has to be both his own Johnson and Boswell. As a result, his book is very largely objective reportage. Allowing himself tiny humorous asides, quick stabs of wit, and, on the last pages, a dialogue between two halves of himself (one wanting to draw generalizations from his experiences and the other ridiculing the notion), Shenker's own contribution to the book is mainly as interviewer. It is a people book almost more than a time-and-place book. The actual dates of his journey are not mentioned.
Stirring and emotive evocations of the landscape are rarely attempted, though Shenker does describe mud convincingly. Most of the feeling in the book comes from the opinions and attitudes and speech of the numerous interviewees, most of whom are more than articulate and more than willing to talk about Gaelic, the clearances, genealogy, ''incomers,'' tourists, childhood, Johnson and Boswell's treatment of or by their ancestors, their lives as crofters, soldiers, islanders , academics, and above all, religion.
If the book lacks subjectivity, it does not miss out on good humor. Shenker's presence is quietly felt in quick observations, telling or funny detail, and an undercurrent of laughter of the most innocuous and friendly sort. As a good listener, he has sympathetically allowed an intriguing cross-section of Scotsmen to voice their thinking. Anyone who suspects that Scotland is flowing in nothing but kilts, bagpipes, and shortbread should read this enjoyable book and come closer to the facts.