I knew I was going to like this book, and I knew it wasn't going to be nearly long enough. Right on both counts, but in ways that I wasn't expecting.
TI knew I was going to like this book, and I knew it wasn't going to be nearly long enough. Right on both counts, but in ways that I wasn't expecting.
There is just no way that anyone can write a travelogue that covers 196 (plus some now nonexistent) countries in a completely thorough manner. Do you talk about each country one at a time, or do you do an overview of subjects - food, religion, war, sex - with brief comparisons of standout countries? Podell does a little bit of each, alternating between chapters on specific countries (or more often regions), how he managed his travels logistically, highlights of visits, and subjects like foods of the world (one of my favorite sections). And it was great, but I did want more. More more more! This extends to accompanying materials as well. I did read an ARC, and it was obvious that some pictures were missing (the captions were included), but I loved the ones that were there. Too many travelogues rely on the words, and Podell's words do speak for themselves, but the images really add something, particularly when they're so well chosen. On the other hand, I would have loved a map or two - or 20!
Podell begins by saying that his book will include countries that most people won't see in their lifetimes, but this ends up largely equating to one continent: Africa. There were a few mentions of the Middle East and South America, and nations like China were mentioned in passing due to subjects like food, but on the whole it felt very unbalanced. I think a bit more on European and North American countries would have lent an interesting study in contrasts - and really, how many Americans are likely to travel to Finland or Latvia? There were a few great inclusions of non-African nations like Nauru and Mongolia that were fascinating, but again... I wanted more!
Another example of my longing for more story is his visit to Yemen. He hints at interesting personal experience with qat, but skips right over it (in stark contrast to Horwitz's entertaining descriptions in Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia), but then he tells this fabulous story about his "invention" of sushi to the excitement of fellow (Taiwanese) tourists. Perhaps the best sections were those on Cuba and North Korea, since Americans have been banned from Cuba and fewer than 1000 Americans have visited North Korea since the end of the war. Podell's thoughts on the communist governments of each country were really intriguing as well. While he didn't directly contrast them, an engaged reader will definitely find some thought-provoking ideas in contrasting them herself.
And speaking of Podell's thoughts - what a guy! He's a great storyteller and just seems like such a character. He's had multiple successful careers (ad man, journalist, lawyer, etc.) and more girlfriends than I could wrap my head around. (Tantalizing hints of his personal life are sprinkled in where they can't be avoided. He traveled with lots of girlfriends - 34 female traveling companions thanked in the acknowledgements! - and tries to pick up college girls in Brisbane when he's over 70. Then comes home in 2012 and marries a woman 49 years his junior. I love this dirty - and yet somehow classy - old man!) He can be very funny, sometimes goofy and sometimes dry. (Goofy example - he make a pun involving poetry and lemurs that ends with the invention of the "lemurick.") Every now and then I felt his humor bordered on non-PC (and in the acknowledgements he thanked someone for making him cut things more offensive than those he included), so that might turn off some readers. Anyway, he's also very intelligent and insightful, on subjects from the aforementioned communism to global warming to overpopulation and its relationship to rice. (Another note: he's a very liberal, educated, atheist Jew from New York, and his ideas reflect that - be warned, conservative readers.) And of course, he is enterprising, brave, adventurous, and - let's be honest - just plain ballsy. And maybe a little bit crazy. But awesome. His would be some excellent coattails to grab onto to see the world.
And I would love to see more books by him, perhaps more detailed stories of his travels broken down by region (Podell on Oceania) or subject (Podell on World Relgion). So to conclude this enormous review, I highly recommend this one - if you go into it knowing that it's going to whet your appetite but leave your hunger raging in the end!
The fine print: received ARC from NetGalley....more
It's ironic that many people (including me) see Scandinavia as this "nearly perfect" place, and yet most of my (and probably many other people's) expeIt's ironic that many people (including me) see Scandinavia as this "nearly perfect" place, and yet most of my (and probably many other people's) experience with the North is in the form of crime fiction!
This book was an informative read. Booth can be witty at times and insightful at others. This was definitely an ambitious project to pull off in a book of less than 400 pages, and he pulls it off if you look at it only as intro and not as a comprehensive study of the subject. I like how he divided the book into sections by country but didn't avoid natural overlaps. I learned a lot about the North, particularly the countries I'm least familiar with -- Denmark (at least after the 11th century, thank you Svein and Cnut!) and Finland (seriously, who knows a single thing about the Finns?).
Some chapters (each with a central subject) had more depth while others just scratched the surface, and the Danish chapters were obviously stronger (as the author's wife is Danish and he lives there). In some cases he assumes the reader has a more extensive knowledge of the Nordic world than this reader did, but at other times he explained things much more extensively. So between the patchiness in terms of depth and description, it felt a bit uneven at times. However, the overall effect was good.
I would definitely recommend this book as a survey of the pros and cons of the Nordic lifestyle and idiosyncrasies....more
I see that a lot of people say this isn't Bryson's best, and I'd say that's true. However, the format is not the same as any of his other books eitherI see that a lot of people say this isn't Bryson's best, and I'd say that's true. However, the format is not the same as any of his other books either, and that should be taken into consideration. It's also frustrating as a travel book, because it has zero pictures. Still, Bryson paints a picture with words of all these interesting places and makes you want to experience them for yourself. I felt like I was taking a little vacation not just in space, but in time. (West Germany? Let's go!) I do wonder how many of the museums are still open, how many of the natural features are still as beautiful/unvisited as they were in 1981. I'm glad I read this; it was strangely fun....more
This was quite a good book, and I can see why Library Journal (or was it Booklist?) compared Tony Perrottet to Bill Bryson. It had all the elements ofThis was quite a good book, and I can see why Library Journal (or was it Booklist?) compared Tony Perrottet to Bill Bryson. It had all the elements of travel and history with a touch of humor and personal philosophizing. The subject was quite an interesting one, but the book was remarkably tame considering. Perrottet obviously had out his thesaurus and made every effort to write a book about sex without all the standard vocabulary. Even the descriptions that would seem relevant and, frankly, necessary to cover this topic (even in a scholarly way) were noticeably absent. (An entire chapter on the Marquis de Sade makes him seem a bit eccentric rather than the man whose name gives us the word "sadism.") Still, any adult should be able to put the pieces together, and his writing is very readable with a good conversational tone. (It was easy to focus on, for example, while my grandfather was watching tv and while eating lunch in a break room full of chatterers.) The one thing that was a big let down (and this is probably and unfortunately unavoidable comparison to Bryson) was Perrottet's surface treatment of his 8 subjects. His chapters were all fascinating and left me wanting to know more, and based on his commentary it seemed like he probably knew more and just didn't include it. He's such a tease, I could probably make a suitable sex joke right now to go with his subject matter... Despite the fact that he left me wanting more, I still thought this was an entertaining, engaging, informative book that was tastefully done considering the racy material, and I do look forward to reading his other books....more
I made it to page 156/334, so keep in mind I'm reviewing a little less than the first half of the book here (all of Italy and part of India). I kept tI made it to page 156/334, so keep in mind I'm reviewing a little less than the first half of the book here (all of Italy and part of India). I kept trying and trying and trying. I hated it. I have never been so surprised at my reaction to a book. Normally, I read everything, like everything, and even the things I don't like usually have some redeeming qualities that compel me to finish. Not here. Plus I especially love travel writing, and this one seemed to have a promising concept. Make that doubly disappointing.
Firstly, Gilbert is as unlikeable of a narrator as I've ever read. I know this is supposed to be a journey of self-discovery, but I just wanted to shout, "GET OVER YOURSELF ALREADY!" There is way too much introspective twaddle next to no description of her travel. The only thing that indicates she's in Italy, for example, is that she eats pasta and uses the occasional Italian word. Otherwise, she could be anywhere. The narrative is inactive. Internal philosophizing can only take you so far, especially when you're overly fond of metaphors and clearly think you're much, much deeper than you actually are.
The "characters" (if you can call the people she meets that) are flat, flat, flat. Sofie is a pretty, petite, blond Swede. Period. Luca Spaghetti just has a funny last name, and no discernible character traits. They're not friends or even people, they're just exploited as plot devices. And even that is being generous, because there is NO plot.
Oh, and if the imagined depth of her musings isn't bad enough, she quotes ancients and prolific authors like a name-dropping socialite. I mean, it's good practice to emphasize something every now and then, but every page it's Aristotle this and Virginia Woolf that. ENOUGH.
Every now and then she would break out with something that impressed me about her views (i.e. she doesn't believe in anti-depressants), but the next page she would be on a ridiculous train of thought that made me want to smack her.
I might still give the movie a try, since Julia Roberts is infinitely lovable and the trailers imply some actual travel happens (*gasp*), but I just couldn't get through one more page of this self-centered, self-inflated jibber jabber. As I said, surprised and disappointed....more