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05 April 2010


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Hi CR, thanks for the great book menage idea. I really enjoyed this one.

As to your first question, my answer doesn't mean much. I was rooting through some book boxes and pulled out Blue Latitudes, so I read that one first. My wife had the Sunburned Country in her own book pile, so I ended getting that one at the library.

Yes, I am much more interested in visiting Australia after reading In a Sunburned Country. One of the reasons I like to travel is to experience something unlike that which I have seen before. Bryson, in between jokes, paints a picture of things you just have to see. Uluru, the Barrier Reef, the Outback, etc.

The Latitudes book didn't make me want to go there quite as much. Horwitz, in this book and others, is more interested in people's attitudes and outlooks, especially towards history. It makes for great reading, but not the kind that inspires me to travel, at least as much as the Bryson book did.

I read “Blue Latitudes” first. If I had to pin down a reason why, I think it would be because, a) it was the first book that was suggested for the ménage; and b) I had never read anything from Tony Horwitz and I had no idea what to expect, whereas I am pretty well acquainted with some of Bryson’s other books.

I have been interested in Australia since I was a kid and watched “The Big Blue Marble” on PBS. As a teen, I used to read mysteries by Arthur Upfield which took place in the outback and featured a half-caste detective named Napoleon Bonaparte and I used to watch a TV show called “Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo”, which was kind of like Flipper or Lassie, only with a kangaroo instead of a dolphin or collie. So reading about what Bryson called “civilized Australia” in “In a Sunburned Country” was more novel to me.

Certainly “Blue Latitudes” was eye-opening for me. I had never heard of Captain Cook and his travels and my knowledge of South Pacific cultures was limited to what I learned in a college anthropology class. I certainly enjoyed traveling vicariously in both books, but neither compels me to be more or less interested about the South Pacific and/or Australia, but rather to read more from these particular authors.

My pleasure--the travel idea was suggested by CR readers, and it was a great idea. Travel's one of those NF genres I kind of forget about.

I enjoyed your story about rooting through some book boxes, as well as your wife's TBR pile. I love to hear it when books are completely integrated into people's lives.

I myself got both books from the library, and I had to ask the "order" question because my process was complicated. I started with the Bryson because I find Bryson amusing, and I couldn't help myself, but then I forced myself to start the Horwitz too, to try and keep up. Then, I think I could tell I wasn't going to be as interested in the Horwitz, so I made myself finish the whole thing first, and then went back to the Bryson as a kind of "reward." I just wondered how others find their books, and how we pick/start books based on mood and other factors.

Your answers are fascinating. I never knew there was so much Australia stuff available--now I feel I must track down "The Big Blue Marble" and the Arthur Upfield mysteries you reference. I'll admit I'm guilty of Bryson's sentiment that Americans hardly ever think of Australia. (Although I was briefly fascinated by movies such as "Strictly Ballroom" and "Muriel's Wedding" in my teen years.) How interesting that you found the 'civilized Australia' bits more novel--my own travel reading betrays my personal travel bias toward big cities and nice hotels--so I hadn't thought of that difference between outback and civilized. But the outback bits of Bryson were probably more novel to me.

Thanks to you both for your comments! And we're off to a great start!

I read Blue Latitudes first, because I read it a few months ago!

I can't say the South Pacific has ever been a place I have a burning desire to go...I really love cities and history and 'civilisation' type stuff, more than beaches and tiny islands. I am reading a different book right now (Eye of the Albatross) that mentioned how there's a triangle from Hawaii to Easter Island to New Zealand that's a HUGE area settled by Polynesians millenia ago, and how it's such an amazing feat that historians still can't really explain it. That makes me more curious than the Horwitz book did. Still, the islands are all so inconvenient to get to, I'd need even more incentive. :)

I already had an interest in the eastern coast of Australia, and I would love to do that train trip out to Perth if it wasn't ridiculously expensive. But I had no interest in the Outback, and In a Sunburned Country just confirmed that for me. Even though Bryson wrote so well about Uluru, it's still not nearly as high on my list as the Great Barrier Reef. Speaking of which, Bryson's descriptions of his time there cracked me up, because I'm a total ocean person!

I just wrote all of that out and realised that your question wasn't 'more or less interested in travelling to'! Whoops! Honestly, meeting Australian book bloggers is what made me more interested in Australia, so I've been reading Australian fiction for the past couple of years. But the Bryson book did make me a lot more curious about the white history of Australia, as well as the backstory to the Aborigines and how LONG they've been there! I've got my eye on The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes now to learn about the English settlers (it's nice and chunky at 600 pages of text and another 100 pages of index/biblio/etc.). The Original Australians by Josephine Flood and Dreamkeepers by Harvey Arden seem like possiblities for Aboriginal culture.

For the South Pacific islands, I have a novel by a Tahitian author checked out right now (Frangipani), and reading Blue Latitudes last year definitely made me more determined to try to seek out authors native to that region.

This comment is too long already, but I really enjoyed this menage and can't wait to see what the next theme is. :)

Hey CR. Haven't finished either one yet, but am making good progress. Are we going to talk about just one tomorrow and if so which one? That way I can focus on that book tonight during my reading time :)

No worries on the length of comment. The Menage is always great for good discussion and new topics crop up all the time.

I totally agree with you about cities, so I'd probably stick with the east coast of Australia too, although Bryson came as close to making me want to travel to an outback area as any writer ever has. He even made Queensland sound kind of interesting.

I agree too that the history of the Polynesians and that triangle between Hawaii and EI and NZ is really interesting--although I don't know that Horwitz really made it come alive for me, or that I particularly enjoyed thinking about the history in light of Cook's travels (which were unbelievable, really, in scope and chutzpah). Ditto about the Aborigines, although most of the info in these two books on them just seemed really sad.

Hm, authors native to the region, I hadn't thought of that. All I know is I've read a few books now ABOUT Tahiti, and I really don't want to read any more. Seems like I'm always reading some man's commentary about Tahitian women, and I can't say I ever find those viewpoints that fascinating.

Well, they were both pretty good-sized books; I salute you for making your way through both of them. We probably will discuss them separately; why don't we plan on tackling the Horwitz tomorrow? Does that help your planning process?

it does. this way i can go home and read a bit more of the horwitz so i can at least have an opinion :) they're interesting, i'm just short on time lately.

I read half of each book, though this morning to my horror I realized I'd read half of the WRONG Horwitz book. If you care to hear it, I have plenty of opinions on the first half of "A Voyage Long and Strange."

The Bryson I am still reading, nabbing bits of chapters here and there and on my lunch breaks. It's not the kind of book I feel like reading all in one sitting.

Don't remember which I picked up first, and... I think my interest in Australia and early American history is unchanged. Perhaps I am not be the ideal audience for travel books. I am liking the Bryson quite a bit, but I think that's because I am enjoying his style, not because it's about Australia.

Then again, I couldn't stand his book on the history of science, so... So I do not have any good conclusions. I will endeavor to give worthier responses to the questions during the rest of the week.

I started Horwitz first, then started reading Bryson while Captain Cook was in New Zealand, then got thoroughly confused when he got to Australia because I had already read some things in Bryson... I finished Horwitz first because I liked the organization of it better. Bryson kept popping from one topic to another so quickly I felt like he had ADD.

I don't necessarily want to read more travel books on the area, but I love history and anthropology and liguistics. I am especially intrigued in any information on the Aborigines. Will have to start reading up on them.

It seems that I'm the only one who prefered the Horwitz to Bryson. However, if Bryson had travelled with Roger I'm sure I would have enjoyed THAT book immensely.

Although I'm really hit or miss on Bryson, I really loved In a Sunburned Country and so, over the last five years or so, I think I've read it 3 times (and enjoyed it immensely each time). This is the first Horowitz I've ever read (I'm about 150 pages in) and I'm enjoying it, though not quite as much as IASC. I decided to read Horowitz first this time since I'm already familiar with IASC.

Well, I'm theoretically interested in going to Australia but, as I don't fly unless absolutely necessary, I'll probably never go there. Of course, Bryson's focus on all things lethal, maybe I wouldn't go!

Oh, Lesbrarian,
I'm so sorry about the wrong Horwitz book--I checked it out and Powell's made the error! They will be hearing from me.

Interesting to hear you're not a big Travel fan. I never think of it myself, and therefore kind of forget how popular it is as a NF genre for many readers. I had to read the Bryson in bits too, although I did enjoy it (and do enjoy his travel books MUCH more than his other NF--he always strikes me as kind of "know it all"-y in his other NF books).

I got confused too, because I did read the two books almost concurrently. I finished the Horwitz first, so periodically during the Bryson he would mention Captain Cook, and I would think, hey, I know that guy now. Where did I read about him? Oh, yeah... (Which should illustrate the pathetic nature of my memory.)

I agree with you that the Aborigines might merit further reading. I wonder if there's a good book about them out there--Bryson didn't seem to act like he had much luck finding history books on Australia, did he? Glad that you enjoyed Roger, by the way--I'll admit he was amusing to read about but if I had to travel with him I don't think it'd go well.

How interesting that you've read the Bryson multiple times. Do you get different things out of it each time? Do you often re-read travel books, or NF titles in general?

I thought of that a lot too, re: traveling to Australia. LONG plane ride, and when will I ever have that kind of money? Plus, only someone like Bryson gets to do it right, even if he's working while he travels--taking weeks to do it for a work project sounds like more fun than trying to pack in all the sights you can.

All the deadly stuff reminded me of Irish comedian Dylan Moran, who has a riff out there on visiting Australia: "ridiculous place, located three-quarters of a mile from the surface of the sun, and the ocean filled with things that want to kill you, you know, swimming knives and all..."

Thanks everyone, for your comments so far!

I read the Bryson first, but only because it was published first (I bought and read it years ago). I think I've dipped into it during moments of insomnia at least four or five times. I love the humor, so it's always easy to find an excuse to put the funny book at the top of the pile. I reread this as soon as the menage was announced, then picked up the Horwitz last week.

I've had the Horwitz book on my list for a long time (I think it was excerpted in the New Yorker or Harpers), but never found the time to get to it. I still have about a hundred pages left, and it feels more like work than other books of his I've read. I think I don't find the Pacific islands very interesting, so I'm having trouble falling into it. But I'll save that for tomorrow.

Also, I *so* did not know that Geraldine Brooks is Horwitz's wife. He mentioned her in One for the Road (his book on hitch-hiking through the Outback, which was good but not great), and I don't think I made the connection when I read Year of Wonders.

I'm seriously going to have to hike New Zealand next year. Sheep rock.

I often reread fiction, but not so much with the nonfiction. The major exception is funny stuff. I love comedy and rewatch sitcoms, stand up routines, and reread funny books constantly. So, in my head, IASC is more humor than travel (which, as a non-traveler, isn't my favorite genre - go figure).

I don't know Dylan Moran - but I'll find him now - thanks!

Hi. Sorry to becoming in so late. I read In a Sunburned Country first a couple of years ago, and it fueled my desire to go to Australia, which we did just last fall when our daughter had a semester abroad in Melbourne - a great city. The people are just as nice as Bryson indicates. Every time Bonnie and I got on a streetcar in Melbourne, some one offered us seats (I guess we look old) and offered to help us find our stop.

Being there and going to New Zealand, we found Captain Cook statues in the parks and he was mentioned in all the museums, so I was pleased to start a book about him. It was less entertaining but still enjoyable - though I wanted him to dump the friend.

I reread Bryson for the discussion and discovered it is even better the second time with more firsthand knowledge of what he speaks. We saw so little of the country/continent. We have to go back.

We did make it to Uluru. It is both weird and desolate. We spent a day too many there. Advice - fly in, spend a full day walking around the rock, and fly out. There were some beautiful birds but we saw no other wildlife. Too expensive and not much reason to stay very long, unless it really appeals to you spiritually.

Never any worry on the typos. If I get a chance I'll just go in and fix them; otherwise, everyone understands this is quick and dirty blog writing and posting.

I am so glad you got to go to Australia, and for such a fun reason, too. How did your daughter end up feeling about her experience in Melbourne, if I may ask? Does she think she could live there? Or was it a nice place to visit, but not really her home?

Wow, people offering to help you on the streetcar. Wow, a streetcar! (I'm in love with the idea of public transportation, although the bus system in my town leaves a lot to be desired--namely, personal safety.) I think that was one of my favorite things about the Bryson--how he really seemed to enjoy the people, and their personalities as well. Many times when he was describing their national tendency to downplay stuff and not take themselves seriously, I really thought, damn, I am living in the wrong country. I want to be there! And I really enjoyed that insight.

Oh, Uluru, thanks for the tip and the reminder. I've got to go find a picture of it online. If there was one thing I think both of these books needed, it was pictures.

And THANK you for the Australia/NZ bookmarks, by the way, I LOVE them!!

1. I started IASC first simply because it was shorter! Half the month suddenly disappeared due to family stuff and I ran out of time. I will admit, since I know you're curious what makes people choose particular books, that I typically divide books into '> or < 300 pages.' I can usually finish a 300-page book in a day, and anything longer needs to be worked in over two or more days. Size is the second factor: if I'm traveling, I'll bring the smallest, lightest books or choose things I don't mind leaving behind.

2. I would say I'm more interested in the South Pacific, partly because I also read 'The Sex Lives of Cannibals' several weeks ago.

I'll admit the heft and length of Blue Latitudes put me off a bit too. I have a system similar to yours for judging the length of books--but most often I just skip the 300+ ones rather than ever reading them!

Wasn't "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" great? I must say, that's about the best one I've ever read on the South Pacific--Troost seemed to have the best attitude toward residents with lifestyles different from his that I've ever seen: a bit flabbergasted sometimes, but accepting and good-natured anyway.

Troost is SO funny. I hope he's working on something new right now. I have only "Getting Stoned with Savages" left to read and I'm saving it for a special occasion. More than his humor, though, I like his humanism.

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