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Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  827 ratings  ·  62 reviews
In this remarkable collection of essays and articles written over the last fifteen years, Paul Theroux demonstrates how the traveling life and the writing life are intimately connected. Not simply an escape from the mundane, travel has always been a creative act for Theroux. His journeys in remote hinterlands and crowded foreign capitals provide the necessary perspective t ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 8th 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2000)
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Though indispensable reading for Theroux fans, I wouldn't recommend this one to readers trying him out for the first time.

Fresh Air Fiend is an eclectic collection of essays, most of them written during the 1990's.

He's really all-over-the-map in this one (both literally and metaphorically), which is great because Theroux really can talk about almost anything and is willing to go anywhere. The only essays I found almost boring were those about the changing economics in China. Here, Theroux marv
Jul 19, 2008 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: those interested in good writing & the world...
Shelves: geography
From this book and 'Sir Vidia's Shadow,' which I also recently finished, I can say that I very much trust Theroux as a reliable guide and observer, an insightful writer about people and place. I've read little of his fiction so far (only a few stories here and there, never a novel) but I liked this collection of travel writings a good deal. The book is divided into thematic sections, which really helps as there are numerous essays here, all written between 1985 and 2000. Early on Theroux makes a ...more
Few books oscillate this wildly from the profound to the profoundly boring. Paul Theroux, I don't care about each and every one of your kayaking misadventures or the toast you made off Nantucket over a camp fire. I do like some of your other essays though.
Jo Deurbrouck
Sigh. Halfway through, I may need a Theroux break. Vinegar is not the only seasoning that makes food taste good.

The man is an exquisite wordsmith and a sharp-eyed observer, but one of the things that means is that his lack of compassion, lack of empathy and big doses of judgmental superiority sparkle like diamonds throughout the essays. I want to yell every so often, "YES! We are not as cool as you! If we concede that point, apparently so important to you, can you mellow out and tell us a good
Paul Theroux’s first collection of essays and articles devoted solely to travel writing is a gem. From a solitary trip to the Maine woods to a mad dash through Hong Kong, “Fresh Air Fiend” treads on Theroux’s familiar themes, particularly becoming a stranger to discover the self.
Found this collection to be a bit uneven. Admittedly, I did skim some of the essays and entries. Sometimes Theroux can be a wonderfully funny and irreverent travel writer. Other times, he comes off as whiny and crabby. There were some pieces that I absolutely loved, and a few that I skipped. Good if you want to dip in and out, I guess.
I'm a fan of Paul Theroux in the New Yorker. I've never picked up a collection of his essays and decided to try this one. This man is adventurer extraordinaire, but his pretension is a little overpowering. Also, he might be the one adventure writer who hates China (besides Grace Paley back when she was a pro-Communist student).
This book is like a collection of essays about travel, travel writing, and travel writers. He reminds us of places he has written about, as well as his novels and how it all came about. A common theme is the isolation of the writer and his quest for who he is. This also comes through in his analysis of other writers. I have read a lot of his books, and generally enjoyed them although I bet he is a king-sized jerk in person. Even when writing about his self described frineds, he is always snarky ...more
Having read Theroux' "The happy isles of Oceania", I was aware of his penchant for kayaking and paddling in unknown territories. In this collection, except for the essays dealing with his 'over the board' enthusiasm in paddling, the others were quite engaging and lively. It covers vignettes from his travels across China, Europe, New England, Hawaii etc and also has a section dedicated to the greatest travel writers of all time - Graham Greene, Pritchett, Naipaul, Bruce Chatwin etc. His explanati ...more
A quote from the essay "Nantucket" I found interesting:

I was salt-crusted and sunburned. No one noticed me beach my boat. I walked urgently, because I had hardly used my legs in two days. I bout an ice cream and a souvenir T-shirt and became part of the crowd. But I had the sense of having discovered Nantucket in my own way and, through dead reckoning, had discovered something in myself. That to me is the essence of the travel experience. Is there any point in going across the world to eat somet
Paul Theroux says normal people don’t become writers. It is just not healthy to sit in a room for hours staring intently into your own mind. He counter-balances this basically inward condition by paddling thousand of miles in a kayak. In Fresh Air Fiend he explains why and how this type of therapy has become an intrinsic part of his life. This pot- pourri of his experiences and reflections, is more about Paul the human being rather than Paul the observer, than any his other books. He explains wh ...more
You'd really be better off reading something else by Theroux that has a somewhat coherent narrative, like Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown or Riding the Iron Rooster. Unless you've read several other books by Theroux (see linked books as well as a few of his novels), you'd best skip this one. I kept trying to pick it back up again over a couple of years, and I finally put it down in the middle of his extended essay on Robinson Crusoe after reaching my breaking point with this co ...more
Theroux is smart. Theroux is voracious. Theroux is downright fearless -- he travels to obscure places and interviews everybody, and he doesn't mind getting stuck in hairy situations. His profiles on exotic locales and his literary reviews are wonderful to read. People like me often aspire to be a writer like him.

And yet.

Where some people find him egotistical or glum, I think Theroux's biggest weakness is his self-satisfaction. There are many pieces in "Fresh Air Fiend" that flirt with arrogance.
This book is one of the best I have read from Paul Theroux. It is a great collection of essays on travel, adventure, his writer friends and his vision of what travel is all about and why he travels and what travel has taught him and how travel has 'made' him. Every time I read him and see the way he writes, I get discouraged about my own attempts at writing because I feel that one should write only if one can write like him; otherwise it is not worth writing.

This book has two lovely essays on Ch
Steffan Meyric
If you're a travel lit lover but have so far found Theroux difficult (some people find his work a bit of a step up from the brilliantly readable Bill Bryson for instance), this is a great starting point. This volume of short autobiographical stories revolves around Theroux's love of small boats and hiking in the wilds of America. I think it was probably after reading this that I first realised how far travel writing can go in terms of equalling any other literary genre. How many travel books hav ...more
This is a book I wish I had read earlier because it may be as close as we get to an autobiography, and I have always wanted to understand what drives his writing.
I love Paul Theroux’s travel writing, and I’ve never understood why people consider him such a cranky grump; rather there’s an abundance of affection for people he meets. In this collection of travels, essays, personal history and much else, what is remarkable is his forbearance under duress (even if it’s all self-imposed). It is such a
Steve Hayden
First of all I am not a fan of short story books. This book is a compilation of "papers" and short thoughts by Paul Theroux. I am a fan of the way Theroux writes so I was hoping for the best. I did indeed enjoy reading Theroux's thoughts on travel. I am a "Fresh Air Fiend" myself so it was a good match.

After reading a few reviews of this book I learned that there were a few sections near the end that might be not so good. I expected this and adapted to the situaton by developing my skimming ski
Linda Olson
This is the first Theroux book I have ever read. I think I prefer him in travel mode, as his snippets about other writers and other book detracted from my enjoyment of this piece ~ I felt like he was namedropping in the last hundred or so pages of this book.
A collection of essays gathered from his travels and adventures, I savoured this book over a two week period ( a long time in my book world.) I feel a kinship to his solitary travel character and I envy the ease with which he seems to move th
On the whole I found it quite enjoyable, though I must say it was fairly erratic as the pieces are not really connected together in a smooth flowing timeline.

The perspectives, analogies and explanations for the travel experiences in each country were unrepentantly incisive, and that made this a rewarding read. Strange how even the earliest travel writings here are still very topical and relevant.

The style of writing took some time getting used to though. The more detailed out event descriptions
Michael Savage
This travel book was a bit of a mixed bag. The first 3/4 of the book was really good. Theroux has a real knack for writing short essays about many of his journeys. I appreciated the variety of different topics and locations in the book as well. And now for the not-so-great aspect of this book: the last part was several essays of Theroux waxing on about other travel books and other travel authors. While some of these were mildly interesting at best it definitely made the last part of the book dif ...more
Not really a story at all, more of a collection of reflections, (both Theroux and others), and wandering general thoughts on places he has visited. There is nothing that connects the chapters together, or anything resembling a plot. I made it most of the way through, but the last section is Theroux's opinions on other American stories by other authors and I can't really give a crap.
I should have known what/how this book was framed before I committed, but the tittle really grabbed me, "Fresh Air
Grindy Stone
Good stuff for those who can't get enough of Theroux's travel writings, with some literary criticism thrown in for good measure.
This is a collection of some of Paul Theroux's shorter pieces that were written between 1985 and 2000. The short pieces are interesting because they provide a glimpse into some of his shorter trips that he's mentioned in passing elsewhere, or even trips that were cut out of some of his longer books. I particularly liked the second-to-last section, which contained pieces that he wrote as introductions for other people's books. They were a good introduction to other travel writers that Theroux him ...more
Theroux as my most read travel writer is least interesting in Fresh Air Fiend (2000) when he writes about the difficulties of the writing profession. Why not change it? His description of difficult sea kayak voyages may have a greater meaning to boating enthusiasts. It was otherwise with his South Pacific travel book Happy Isles of Oceania (1993) where the objective was the people on the fifty some islands he visited but not the sea challenge. That’s the strength of his writing—the people not th ...more
This was another great read by Paul Theroux, one of my favorite travel authors. This was a compilation of sorts. The author inserted his voice in a different way than in his other books. He added commentary on some of his other books which was interesting. He voiced a lot of self-reflection (almost felt like a memoir at times). This is an easy book to pick up and put down. Each chapter is a different story about one of his many travels. His books are a great way to travel vicariously!
This was going to be four stars until part 7, where it abruptly veered off into book reviews.
Not the best Theroux I've read, but still quality if you're going for essay format. Last section is focused entirely on literature/authors - often reads more as book reviews or biographies than otherwise - and I can't say it always held my interest, as I was there for the "travel writings" factor. Still interesting, though, and for the vast majority, met my expectations of another Theroux book. Approve.
Feb 09, 2008 Barrett marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Unread except for one portion of a story I read about ten years ago: "Unspeakable Rituals and Outlandish Beliefs". I was riveted by this excellent non-fiction anthropology in an undergraduate English class. I've spent these years thinking about the story and never finding the hand-out.

After finding that paper today, I'm putting it in my queue immediately, because it is part of this book. Hooray!
This guy could take me anywhere.

"For long periods of my life, living in places where I did not belong, I have been a perfect stranger...

"Sometimes my being a stranger was like the evocation of a dream state, at other times like a form of madness, and now and then it was just inconvenient."
Has a small section on the ability of travel to remove you from your cultural comforts and the effect that it has on your perceptions....the book is a must read for adventurers due to that section alone, the rest is just icing that makes you want to run away from the routine immediately.
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
More about Paul Theroux...
The Great Railway Bazaar Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town The Mosquito Coast Riding the Iron Rooster The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

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“Travel is a state of mind. It has nothing to do with existence or the exotic. It is almost always an inner experience.” 1 likes
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