I've been hearing about a friend's experiences working in Antarctica for more than a year now. The things she's said have made me cringe at the introdI've been hearing about a friend's experiences working in Antarctica for more than a year now. The things she's said have made me cringe at the introductions to most books about the place. This one, though - this sounds exactly like the stories she tells.
So this book is, as far as I can tell, authentic and honest. It's also funny. And it's basically a primer in mismanagement. If you want to laugh helplessly while simultaneously fantasizing about stabbing a bunch of managers in Denver in the face with a clue fork, this is definitely the book for you.
Which isn't to say that it's perfect. The editing and layout are disasters, and the book is somewhat disorganized. None of those was a serious problem for me, though - I even managed to ignore the editing problems, which should indicate just how readable this is.
More of a problem for me was the, shall we say, rugged and faithful recreation of Antarctic conversation, complete with a lot of racism, homophobia, and sexism (just a given in that environment, although most of the time the author reported it without seeming to condone it), plus a really disturbing focus on animal harm and death. The latter made me skim a number of pages, and took this book from four to three stars. (I'm not saying it shouldn't be in there, but wow did it affect my enjoyment of the book.)
However. Even though I cringed away from some of the pages, and even though there were stories that actually raised my blood pressure in sheer fury, I really enjoyed this book. Just, you know. With caveats, enough of them that I'd hesitate to recommend the book to just anyone. (But for anyone considering a season in Antarctica, this should be mandatory reading.)...more
Here's what I learned from this book: those who can, do. Those who can't, write for television. Seriously, this is a book about the most incompetent tHere's what I learned from this book: those who can, do. Those who can't, write for television. Seriously, this is a book about the most incompetent travelers ever to make it back home without losing a limb. And I realize that was part of their shtick, but even when they're not being incompetent for humorous effect (which is a tough trick to manage, and they mostly don't, because, hey - incompetent!), they're still hopeless. I spent a lot of this book wondering why it wasn't called Two Mostly Useless Guys Wander Vaguely Around the Globe Running into Things.
And, sadly, one of the (many) things they can't do is write a book. They know how to write - although Vali has some annoying tense switches - and they know how to be funny, but they can do these things only in short bursts. So this isn't so much a book as it is a collection of very brief set pieces. And when I say "very short," I mean "several paragraphs." On the up side, this means it's easy to pick this book up and put it down. On the down side, this means it has absolutely no flow whatsoever, and the humor's a lot less, well, humorous, because there's no build at all.
So why did I give this book four stars? Because it is - or it contains - a rare, rare bird, one I've longed to see for the last ten years or so. See, travel and adventure writing is almost exclusively a white man's game. Occasionally I can find travel or (more rarely) adventure books written by women. But I basically never find any written by people of color. And Vali is Indian. It was fabulously refreshing to find anything, anything at all, written about traveling that wasn't from the perspective of a white man. I'd give a lot worse book than this one four stars for that.
Of course, that means I wish this entire book had been written by Vali; Steve's narrative, while it covers more off-the-beaten path areas, could have been written, and written better, by any of a thousand writers in this field. Vali's, on the other hand, is basically unique. Depressing? Yes. But it makes this book worth reading for anyone who enjoys travel and adventure writing, just so we can see how it could be. ...more
This book's title should actually be Paris in the 1960s and 1970s, Described by Joseph Wechsberg and Naomi Berry. And therein lies the problem.
I expeThis book's title should actually be Paris in the 1960s and 1970s, Described by Joseph Wechsberg and Naomi Berry. And therein lies the problem.
I expected, from the subtitle and from the other Gourmet collection I've read, to find here a variety of writers covering the full time span. And, technically, this book has both - seventeen authors (although that's a ludicrously small number for a 350 page anthology of short magazine pieces), and, well, if not quite sixty years, close. But the book is 85% Joseph Wechsberg and Naomi Berry by volume - apparently they provided the majority of all Gourmet's material on Paris, or just the majority of everything Ruth Reichl liked - and they cover only short periods; Berry part of the sixties, Wechsberg part of the seventies. So already this fails as an anthology - it's not providing a range of voices and experiences.
So the next question is - does it entertain, despite its flaws? And the answer is that it sort of does. Sort of because I don't like Wechsberg's writing (which is unfortunate for me vis-a-vis Gourmet's collections; Reichl apparently worships the ground he walked on) very much. Especially when he's writing about Paris, he's irritatingly pompous. Seriously, dude, if you're writing for an American audience, why throw lumps of random French into your text? Especially given that you're going to translate it in the next sentence. And I'm not talking about French that actually isn't easily translated, or that has special meaning - I'm talking about, like, the French for "from his home" or "car." But my real problem with him is that, Wechsberg is sexist, snobbish, and priggish. I know he had a fascinating life, and I'm sure he was a great guy, but his writing voice and style just basically make me want to poke him with a stick.
And, of course, since this book is about half Wechsberg, not liking him means not liking the book much. Which is a pity, because the places where this actually does act like an anthology, like the first and last sections, I was a very happy reader; Paris is a fascinating subject, and normally I love any book that features people talking about a place or thing that they love. And I didn't mind reading all the essays by Berry, even if they were rather limited in terms of era. But. Just. This book left me gritting my teeth and saying, "Shut up, Joseph Wechsberg."...more
Adventure writing is usually a frustrating read for me - frustrating because the authors are usually willfully, forcibly blind to the levels of privilAdventure writing is usually a frustrating read for me - frustrating because the authors are usually willfully, forcibly blind to the levels of privilege and entitlement you have to have just to be a professional adventurer. Mark Jenkins is worth a read if for no other reason than that he gets that - gets that what he's doing is selfish, that adventure consumes resources that will never be replaced, despoils places that should not be despoiled.
He also understands the personal cost of adventure. I actually bought the book for the first essay, which is about his family, and which is an honest portrayal of what he, his wife, and his kids give up so that he can live his dreams. It's interesting and heartfelt, and it's on a topic that's rarely addressed by the gung-ho adventure types. Even better, though, is the last essay, which talks about his best friend; that one is heartrending, intense, and well-written, and it honestly made me cry.
If only all these essays could have been as good. Jenkins seems to get more of what's behind adventure travel, but, except in those two stand-out essays, he's just not a very good writer. Most of his pieces are journalistic: we went here. We saw this. We climbed that. We came back. Adventure writing, to be good, has to be more personal, more idiosyncratic, and more revealing; sadly, Jenkins spends most of his time not managing to hit those notes, or even come close, and so the book is surprisingly pedestrian; Jenkins manages to report on phenomenal places and activities and make them only slightly more interesting than old chewing gum.
Still. If you can get this book from a library, it's worth reading for those two essays alone. ...more
This book was written before Bryson found his comfort zone with his narrative voice, and it shows. The elements are here of the Bryson we'd all come tThis book was written before Bryson found his comfort zone with his narrative voice, and it shows. The elements are here of the Bryson we'd all come to know and love later - the complaints, the penny-pinching, the humor, the mishaps - but it doesn't come together perfectly, and the result is a book that - okay, it's funny. But it left me feeling like two minutes in the author's actual company would be two minutes two many.
Still, it's a great outsider's view of the US - all the more interesting because he's an American, just one who has been living in the UK for a decade and a half. And who doesn't love a road trip?
Well worth a read; well worth owning. Just don't go into this expecting the polished, less bitey Bryson of later books. ...more
Highly enjoyable for anyone who has an interest in Captain Cook, which I totally do, and I admit it biases me in favor of this book. But I've enjoyedHighly enjoyable for anyone who has an interest in Captain Cook, which I totally do, and I admit it biases me in favor of this book. But I've enjoyed Horowitz's other books, and I think his narrative style - a combination of observation, complaint, and information - would work even for a non-Cook-obsessed person. ...more