Monday, August 10, 2009

Great cranky travel writing!

Tho he's gotta reputation 4 Bing cranky, travel writer & novelist Paul Theroux can B a lotta fun 2 read. Summa his travel writing is Xtremely vivid & funny, & (like John McPhee) after reading Theroux's books U almost feel like U don't need 2 go C summa the places he Dscribes. & summa them U wouldn't WANT 2 visit....
I got hooked on Theroux during 3 wks I spent in Greece in Summer 1991, broke & bored & working 2 hard. Dspite the gorgeous scenery all around me (which I couldn't afford 2 go get a closer look at), 2 fight the boredom I picked up Theroux's RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER, a 500-pg recap of his train trip across China in the late '70s. The book is Xhausting but vivid, & I started looking 4 more.
THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR recaps Theroux's 1st travel adventure, across Europe & Russia via the Orient Express in the early '70s. Tho not 2 long & quite vivid, cranky & funny, Theroux's loneliness gets 2 him, & the whole last 1/4 of the book is 1 long Xhausted return home.
Theroux's best travel book (of the 1's I've read) is A KINGDOM BY THE SEA, about his long WALK around the coastline of the island of Britain in the early '80s. It's (as always) vivid & funny & Dtailed -- he meets some very eccentric Brits, & gets himself in2 some amazing windswept, Ghod4saken locations -- not leaving out the gritty, dull, drab landscapes that surely Xist around the isles as well. The book made me love the British Isles (where I've never bn) even more.
FRESH AIR FIEND is a big collection of shorter pieces, & tho it's uneven there's some amazing stuff included -- among them R Xcellent reviews of other travel writers' works like those of Bruce Chatwin (Theroux makes him sound better than he is), & an overview of Apsley Cherry-Gerrard's THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD, which sounds like the Ultimate Travel Book: it's a recap of Cherry-Gerrard's walk across part of Antarctica in the early 1900's. There's also an intresting look back at Theroux's 1st few novels, written while he was a Peace Corps volunteer in East Africa in the early '70s.
Some of Theroux's novels R Xcellent 2, but some R just dry & MT -- THE BLACK HOUSE is a boring "atmospheric" chiller in which NOTHING HAPPENS. But MY SECRET HISTORY is brilliant, immediate, vivid & devastating -- tho it shows-up the writer as a real creep, a 10dency continued in MY OTHER LIFE, which has sections well worth skimming, but is awfully tuff 2 get All The Way Thru.... MOSQUITO COAST is also quite good, vivid, involving, even terrifying -- tho perhaps not quite as good as the movie made from it. There's also a creepy murder&sex-change-switcheroo novel called CHICAGO LOOP which is worth taking a look at -- at least it's short.
Theroux has dozens of other books, including sevral more volumes of travel writing I've bn looking 4. THE PILLARS OF HERCULES is about a canoe trip thru the Greek isles, & SUNRISE WITH SEAMONSTERS has Paul & his kayak paddling thru the 1,000 isles of Indonesia! But somehow I bogged-down about 50 pgs in2 his South American railway adventure, THE OLD PATAGONIAN EXPRESS....
Theroux can B cranky, but he's usually funny, & he has a sharp eye that doesn't miss much. Check him out....

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