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07 April 2010


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I've been trying not to be first in the comments and unduly steer conversations, but I had so many bookmarks stuck in the Bryson for "parts I liked" that I just have to share one:

[When talking about the Prime Minister Harold Holt, who drowned off the coast] "But as I was leaving he called to me with an afterthought. 'They built a memorial to him in Melbourne,' he said. 'Know what it was?'
I indicated that I had no idea.
He grinned very slightly. 'A municipal swimming pool.'
His grin broadened, but the nod was sincere.
'This is a terrific country,' I said.
'Yeah,' he agreed happily. 'It is, you know.'" (p. 143.)

I LOVED that. I thought, I wish I was Australian.

Oh, this will be easy, I don't have to answer any of the questions, I can just refer everyone to the review I wrote:


...or is that cheating? Oh.

1. No scenes stand out in particular. The book as a whole is enjoyable, or at least the first half is. Perhaps the second half is dreadful. I haven't gotten to it yet. This book, and travel writing in general, I assume, is episodic, but for some reason the individual episodes don't shine. They work collectively to make a nice read, though-- and I mean that sincerely, even though it sounds like I'm damning the book with faint praise.

1.a Exception: all the bits about the really horrible ways to die stand out clearly.

2. Bryson is a funny writer. I gather that's why he's so popular. Are other travel writers funny? Maybe I should read some travel books to find out. Or not.

3. My edition does have the appendix. I know this because there's a line on the front cover telling me so.

Nah, not cheating. Thanks for the link!

Bryson IS funny, although I only find him so in his travel writing (his memoir was a bit too gentle for me, and his science book was okay but not stupendous). I would say the majority of travel writers are emphatically NOT funny--popular writers like Frances Mayes, for instance, don't do anything for me. But when they ARE funny, they're great--have you read any Tony Hawk (not the skateboarder) or J. Maarten Troost?

God bless the publisher for telling us about the appendix on the front cover, eh? I myself enjoyed the Sydney Olympics articles, although I wasn't planning to read them. I just got sucked in.

1. I enjoyed the bits in Sydney and Queensland most, I think. :) His story of falling asleep when his host was driving him around Sydney made me laugh incredibly hard. Other than that, the story that really stuck in my head was his road trip to Uluru w/ Alan.

2. He's funny and he goes to English-speaking places? lol I guess there's a kind of everyman, Aww shucks, quality to him that makes it easy to follow along on his adventures. But I haven't read any of his other travelogues, so I can't speak a lot to that.

3. Mine didn't, and now I feel cheated!

I think I liked his visit to Perth best. He made it seem like a wonderful place to visit. I also enjoyed his travels with his friend Alan (offering to drink each other’s urine etc.). I was pleased he had a traveling companion. He seemed a little lonely in other parts. I know I would be. There is nothing worse than looking at something really breathtaking and not being able to turn to the person next to you and say, “wow”. Unless you start talking to strangers, which usually puts said stranger off. My least favorite aspect of the book was his emphasis on what a wonderful place Australia is and side stepping for the most part the question of the Aborigines. I felt that Horwitz dealt much more honestly with that issue.

I think what makes Bryson so popular is his sense of humor. I laughed out loud more than once when reading; for example, when he found the unofficial repository for the yellow bags behind the potted plant in the Canberra museum. That cracked me up.

The edition that I checked out from the library did not include the appendix on the Sydney Olympics. Bummer!

Eva, Ruthiella,
If possible, request the paperback from your library--I'm not sure if all pb editions had the appendix, but the articles on Sydney were quite fun. Maybe a librarian can help you track down a copy that, as the Lesbrarian points out, nicely says right on the cover that it includes the appendix.

I agree with both of you that a large part of Bryson's appeal is his humor. Which is very accessible humor and can sometimes be a bit sharp, but is never really mean. (I wonder if his books that aren't as funny sell as well, or if they sell well because people think they're going to be hilarious...) I also REALLY enjoyed that he always shares details of his lodgings and getting coffees and food in various locales--my favorite bits of traveling are getting successfully to a hotel room, tracking down a local newspaper, and finding coffees and/or drinks wherever I can. I'd love to be his traveling companion!

A fair point about the Aborigines, although I had to give Bryson points for pointing out that he did what everyone else does--notices them for a bit, and then doesn't see them anymore. It was (is) sad but it was also truthful--that's what we do with people we don't want to see in this country, too, and there are plenty of them. I wonder if he could have worked in more aboriginal info, but then still gone back to the light humor of the rest of the narrative.

I got the feeling he was a little lonely during some parts of the trip too! But who wouldn't be after hours of driving through so much country?

I'd love to be Bryon's travelling companion too!

Like Ruthiella, I would have liked more up-front discussion of Aborigines, but it seemed like his attempts to talk about it w/ white Australians were always dead ends. I wish he'd sought out some Aborigines to talk to...I know it might have taken some extra effort, but for a whole book about Australia, I think that effort would have been justified.

Err.that would be Bryson. I definitely would not want to travel with Byron.

I liked when Bryson went out of the way wherever that might be. He often seemed to find something wonderful in unpromising places. He even found a way to go remote in the cities by taking long walks where no one else walks. Of course, that almost got him eaten by wild dogs.

Having flown to Alice Springs, I can not even image driving there.

I think Bryson does well as a travel writer. Of the few places that he and I both saw, I thought he captured them well. I really want to go to the remote West Coast now that he has described it.

Sorry, I listen so I did not see the appendix. Actually, I'm not sorry I listened because Bryson is a funny reader.

1. I had so many favorite parts overall, but I do love the quote with which you kick off this thread. I guess I liked the Outback sections best, including the train journey.

2. I agree with many of you that it is his humor, and the fact that he is actually funny, that set the books apart from other travel writers. He balances the humor with actual information and experience, which is no easy trick.

3. I had the edition with the extra stuff, but I only skimmed it. I wasn't that interested in the Olympics bits and I thought it looked a bit tacked on. Also I was tempted by the next book on the pile.

I liked the part with Allan too, because it gave Bryson someone else to pull into the humor. As I said the first day, I would like to get Bryson and Roger together for a jaunt around Australia. I also LOVED the story about his friends renting the boat in Croc infested waters. It sounds like such an ordeal and then you find out it was only 20-odd minutes.

I think Bryson's self-deprication makes him and his books more likeable. He's very approachable.

I didn't get the appendix either, but would have read it if it were there, because I'm nerdy that way.

Now I have to find a copy with the Olympics stuff.

I don't think I can point to one particular section as my favorite. I think what I responded to was the tone: it was light and sunny, but he let a little of dark parts of travel peek through--enough to keep the book from being silly, but not so much that it killed the humor.

CR--You picked up on my favorite little moment in the whole book--the Prime Minister who disappears in the ocean and no one really notices! I don't know what it really says about the country, but it says something.

I also love all the bits about how deadly Australia is, and how completely this does NOT make any of the Aussies be more cautious.

Grant did an issue about Australia in the late 1990s that had a few really fascinating articles about the Aborigines. One that stuck with me was about a white woman (an anthropologist?) who lived with one Aboriginal family group who had been living more traditionally, and her relations with one of the male elders. It explained a lot about their religious beliefs, which I'd never heard much about. Worth a look if you can find it anywhere.

Well, you might have been in the majority in your feelings about traveling with Byron...my sense is that he was pretty popular with the ladies.

I too loved Bryson's walks, as walking is my favorite mode of transport at home and while traveling. It must be kind of neat to read these books and be able to picture where the authors are describing...like Alice Springs. (For the record, I can't imagine doing any of the driving he did--hate driving; hate isolated roads.) I'm so glad you went to AU and NZ before this menage! I wonder if he reads his other books. I'd like to read "I'm a Stranger Here Myself"--maybe he's read that himself?

Yes, actually being funny doesn't hurt Bryson--many "humor" writers really aren't funny at all (I think). Like you, I had tons of favorite parts too, but most of them had to do with Bryson's descriptions of the Australian character and his conversations with people (rather than geographical descriptions). Although I did enjoy the weird interlude in Canberra.

Yes, he is very self-deprecating. One of my favorite types of humor; I tend to think of it as very British, and I think Bryson has a lot of that sensibility. I think he really responded to it in the Australians too, which was fun to watch. (and please note I did read the appendix, because I'm totally nerdy that way too.)

I also liked the story he was told by his friend, about the little girl who was helping the builders, and when asked if she would help them the next day, responded with "I will if we ever get the fucking bricks." I thought that was great travel and work humor all rolled into one.

Hm, the Granta (the magazine? is that right?) sounds fascinating. Damn and blast, as if I don't have enough to do, now I have to track that down. :) Thanks for the suggestion.

1. I am enjoying the book so much (still actively reading, p. 169) that I think I would read anything by Bryson just because he wrote it. I love how he took the time to write out all the silly names he found in the street guide. Appreciation to Rick for mentioning that Bryson narrates well, because I love audio books and particularly love them when the author reads.

My favorite stories so far have all already been mentioned, but I did also like the part where he tries to figure out how to order coffee and apparently just gets multiple drinks.

2. What makes Bryson popular as a travel writer? He's a funny nerd! He puts in all the real parts of travel and includes a lot of trivia. He does sound fun to travel with, partly because he sounds pretty competent. Most people tend to be pretty high maintenance when they are away from home.

3. I didn't get the Olympics section either! Bah.

Rocket Scientist went to Australia with his family about 10 years ago. I've spent half my time reading this book fantasizing that we're planning our own trip, and I think I would definitely pick Adelaide first. We like to spend our traveling time walking, riding the local bus, going to museums and botanical gardens, and trying to find restaurants that can somehow cobble together a vegan meal. (The men in my family prefer skydiving, scuba diving, amusement park rides, and generally anything that invites sprained ankles, which is how we know we're nerds and they're not).

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