More like Bill Bryson’s African Pamphlet. Fun for what it is, and very Brysony, but oh-so-very thin. However, all proceeds from sales of this book goMore like Bill Bryson’s African Pamphlet. Fun for what it is, and very Brysony, but oh-so-very thin. However, all proceeds from sales of this book go to a good cause, so I’d recommend either thinking of the book as a gift-with-donation, or getting it from the library....more
Reread, 'cause having read 84 Charing Cross Road again, I had to read the sequel. This is even better than I remembered—I think I recalled it being aReread, 'cause having read 84 Charing Cross Road again, I had to read the sequel. This is even better than I remembered—I think I recalled it being a bit of a disappointment after 84. It's not; it's just different. And it especially resonated now that I've actually been to London and recognize some of the places Hanff describes and the feeling of finally being in the city you've read about so many times even more. (Although Hanff wasn't exactly going, "Just like it's described in Neverwhere!" She's rather more classical than I am.) Like 84, this book is realistically bittersweet—it acknowledges lost opportunities and lost friends—but Hanff's are consistently a wonderful pair of eyes to see the city, and the travel experience in general, through. A friend said recently that she wanted a book to make her feel nostalgic about London—this is so perfect it seems tailor-made....more
I'm really not sure what Carey was trying to accomplish with this book. He goes to Japan with his preteen son, who's a big manga and anime fan, and haI'm really not sure what Carey was trying to accomplish with this book. He goes to Japan with his preteen son, who's a big manga and anime fan, and has his agent hook him up with interviews with lots of big names in the manga/anime world. Along the way he spouts a lot of pretentious theories about what the "real Japan" is. The Japanese people he interviews then tell him they think he's wrong. So Carey shrugs and concludes that Japan is unknowable. I think.
Okay, fine, I agree that it's nigh-impossible to ever know a foreign country like a native. Even natives might have a hard time defining what the "real Country X" is. (See the recent election for evidence that politicians have no idea what the "real America" consists of, but are sure willing to argue about it a lot.) However, in researching and writing this book, Carey got to go to JAPAN. That's really freakin' cool! He got to meet Hayao Miyazaki! Cool, right? But Carey doesn't seem to get enjoyment out of any of this. Nor does he really describe his surroundings much: for much of the book, he might as well have been interviewing these manga and anime gods at a Country Inn & Suites off the highway in Poughkeepsie. It's like all the energy and excitement of manga and anime and a trip to JAPAN went into the book's vibrant design (woo, Chip Kidd!) and not into the writing.
I didn't learn anything from this book, except that Carey is kind of a downer on vacations....more
Very funny, if sadly outdated, account of Barry’s three-week trip to Japan. Were we (and by we I mean Americans) really afraid of Japan in 1992 the waVery funny, if sadly outdated, account of Barry’s three-week trip to Japan. Were we (and by we I mean Americans) really afraid of Japan in 1992 the way we’re now afraid of China? Huh. It’s amazing—and encouraging—how much opinions can change in 16 years.
This book isn’t really a travel guide—it’s a humor book, and has no pretensions of being anything else. Still, I wish Barry had been a little more willing to try Japanese stuff, rather than simply observe and freak out every time someone tried to get him to eat eel. Eel is delicious, yo. And it’s pretty much a staple of any decent sushi joint here in the States. Again, amazing how the world changes. I will take this to be a happy thing.
If you’re having trouble feeling quite so positive, this book will help. Barry may not be an adventurous eater, but he is hilarious, and that’s what really matters here....more
In which the author, a Bay Area journalist, decides to try to travel across the United States without a penny in his pocket, relying purely on BlancheIn which the author, a Bay Area journalist, decides to try to travel across the United States without a penny in his pocket, relying purely on Blanche DuBois’ staple. This is both a compelling travel narrative and an interesting look at human psychology. Almost all the people who help Mike are damaged in some way. Most, if not all, are poor, and yet still give more than they can afford to. So it’s in many ways a very moving book. At times it’s also nerve-wracking: there are a lot of scary, dangerous people wandering America’s highways, and Mike has some tense encounters with them, including on his very first ride, getting picked up by a guy who takes him somewhere secluded and propositions him. I hate that this is the kind of project I could never repeat—that even a solo road trip in my own car could be a bit dangerous for me. Yes, there are a lot of kind strangers out there—they may even be in the majority—but in many ways, the unspoken message of this book is how very, very lucky its author was.
Anyway, if you can track this book down—sadly, I think it’s out of print—I definitely recommend it. It’s a fascinating look at many of America’s less-seen faces....more
Like Ferguson’s Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw, this is another wonderful travel narrative, full of vivid descriptions, fascinating conversations with orLike Ferguson’s Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw, this is another wonderful travel narrative, full of vivid descriptions, fascinating conversations with ordinary people, and lots of humor. After teaching English in Japan for several years, Ferguson decides, almost on a whim, to follow the cherry blossom front—they sweep up the country, coming alive and blooming from the south to the north—hitchhiking the whole way. One of the best things about this book is how willing Ferguson is to immerse himself in Japanese culture—he doesn’t take the bullet train because he wants to see the cities and towns he’s passing from ground level, not through a glass window on an elevated platform; he doesn’t view everything through that highly-irritating Western lens of deciding in advance that everything is going to be so strange and scary and incomprehensible. What the book ultimately ends up being about is how badly he wants to belong, but how, being a husky blond Canadian, he can never really breech the inner circle; he’s this story’s Grendel, forever stuck outside.
I wish the ending, which finds Ferguson arriving at an important revelation, was approached in a slightly more sedate, slightly less rushed manner, but overall this is a fantastic book. Keep an eye out: it’s also published under the title Hitching Rides with Buddha, and under either title, I highly recommend it....more
That guy who traded up from a red paperclip to a house in Saskatchewan tells his story. Unfortunately, he doesn't tell it particularly well. It's a grThat guy who traded up from a red paperclip to a house in Saskatchewan tells his story. Unfortunately, he doesn't tell it particularly well. It's a great story, don't get me wrong, but MacDonald's style...I don't want to call it too "bloggy," as there are a lot of well-written blogs out there. But I could understand someone leveling that criticism, because MacDonald's writing, whether the product of blogging or not, is unfocused, not terribly descriptive—none of the places he visits ever came alive for me—and full of those painfully-awkward sentences and assemblages of sentences where the writer clearly thinks he is being very, very funny...but he is not. The whole book seems so strained, like MacDonald was rushed into Getting His Incredible Story Out There! Also, seriously not helping things: he ends every chapter with a few pieces of advice/"affirmation statements." Gag me. I think it's meant to be done ironically, but instead it comes across like those people who say they're watching Survivor or Big Brother or whatever "ironically," as if that somehow excuses their being glued to the television every week. Sorry, I don't buy it.
Luckily, I didn't buy this book, either—I traded for it, and I've since traded it for something else. I hope MacDonald is proud of me....more
Reread. I was just in the mood. It was interesting, because the last time I read this book I had just discovered Bill Bryson and I read a whole bunchReread. I was just in the mood. It was interesting, because the last time I read this book I had just discovered Bill Bryson and I read a whole bunch of his books all at once; this time I got to see more clearly how this one stood out from the pack. It's definitely not my favorite—I think that would probably be Notes From a Small Island, if only because I am equally bewitched by the subject matter—but it's a solid effort all around. I think the best stuff is the stuff about Stephen Katz, who was also Bryson's traveling companion in the flashback parts of Neither Here Nor There. Katz has an actual character arc, which is unusual, I think, for a nonfiction work—I like the development of his and Bryson's prickly friendship as they hike the Appalachian Trail, and the part at the end where they get separated still sends me into a panic even knowing how it turns out. Not my favorite Bryson, but definitely a good one....more
As someone currently obsessed with Canada (don't ask), this book was pretty darn perfect. Ferguson explores some of the country's most eccentric spotsAs someone currently obsessed with Canada (don't ask), this book was pretty darn perfect. Ferguson explores some of the country's most eccentric spots, sprinkling his journeys with just the right amount of historical information and personal narrative. I love the idea of Canada as a Land of the Lost—a shipwrecked nation—and Ferguson captures that exquisitely, that combination of melancholy and hope. You're not helping to cure my obsession here, man....more
I adore Gerald Durrell. This is definitely on the list of Books That Have Made Me Emit Embarrassingly Loud Snorting Noises in Public. And I'm probablI adore Gerald Durrell. This is definitely on the list of Books That Have Made Me Emit Embarrassingly Loud Snorting Noises in Public. And I'm probably in the minority here, but I actually like this one more than My Family and Other Animals....more
Coupland juxtaposes a city's quest for identity with the twentysomething's personal quest: it's all muddled and confused now, and sometimes it's evenCoupland juxtaposes a city's quest for identity with the twentysomething's personal quest: it's all muddled and confused now, and sometimes it's even awful, but there's SO MUCH hope for the future. I really like seeing Vancouver (where I've never been, sadly) through Coupland's eyes. This is not a guidebook, but a personal tour by a somewhat funky (and therefore, awesome) friend who shows you patchwork pieces of the place which can then be made into the tapestry of your choosing. Mine has a lot of dangling threads, but I like it anyway....more
This book was such a fantastic surprise. I got it at a junk shop because I can't resist old, weird travel guides, especially about the British Isles.This book was such a fantastic surprise. I got it at a junk shop because I can't resist old, weird travel guides, especially about the British Isles. But this turned out to be one of the best travel books I've ever read: informative, personable, and just slightly sharp-tongued. And as a special bonus, the book contains a fantastic overview of the Wars of the Roses and—shockingly!—an explanation of cricket that I actually almost understood! Truly miraculous....more