105 Ways to Give a Book

Going Down Under

Why travel to Australia on vacation, halfway around the world, when you can just read a book about it?

Or that is how I justify it to myself.

Lost in RoovilleLost in Rooville, by Ray Blackston, showed great promise in my armchair journey. A cute, light green cover with the kangaroo warning sign and a kangaroo jumping on top of a car in the background. It looked light and easy, which was just what I was after. I found myself wading through forty pages of two guys talking about getting engaged to their girlfriends with the enthusiasm I would expect to see from two guys talking about getting laid, but I knew kangaroos were coming, so I hung in there. The two couples split up to explore the Outback separately, and the book picks up. One couple gets lost, and as they run out of water and wonder if they will be found in time, they think about having sex. But they don’t, because their values are too strong.

Hold on. This is a grown couple and they haven’t had sex yet? What’s going on here? It all comes back to me. The passing reference to praying for help. The woman has been working with a mission. Is this... Christian fiction?

I flip ahead, and while the author must have contained himself for the first part of the book, suddenly the God, praying, and minister references are all over the place. I have no problem with the existence of the genre, and this book was probably a decent expression of Christian values in a new setting. But hey, warn me. You don’t play rap on a country music station; you don’t slap a chick-lit-ish cover on a book of Christian fiction. It’s just wrong.

One for the RoadI had to clear my head, and went for an old favorite, One for the Road: An Outback Adventure, by Tony Horwitz. Tony is an American journalist who gets the idea to cross the outback by hitchhiking. He meets lots of crazy characters, crosses a landscape similar to the moon, and sees his first kangaroo after the driver runs into it. This is the Australia adventure about the people, not the tourist attractions, and it is fascinating and funny.

In a Sunburned CountryBut, my old favorite wasn’t there, so I decided to try Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. I am halfway through it, and it is good but not great. He talks a lot about various tourist attractions or cities that he assumes we have a working knowledge of. But I don’t, and wish that there were a few pictures and maps to help me follow his descriptions. His books incorporate more history and facts and actual information. It’s a little too much work for me. I just wanted the funny or interesting stories and some clever writing.

Because, face it, I’m on vacation.


Daniel said...

I, too, wish that Bryson had included a bit more info for the Australian-unaware populace. Frankly, I loved the book. It's rather unlikely that I will ever see Australia--hell, it takes an act of Congress to get me away from the borders of Maryland and Virginia--but, the vast emptiness that he describes would be elucidated by a few basic maps. After all, much of the readership is probably in Europe and the US, and has little concept of the Oz terrain.
Yet, I found the book compelling, mostly because the place is so foreign and yet so similar, in a cultural vein. Imagine going out to a movie at the Byrd, drinks at the Jefferson, and...a deadly spider bite on the walk back home! Bryson's wit is on target.
I've also enjoyed his takes on Europe and England, and particularly the US upon his return after many years living abroad.

MotherReader said...

You know what, I finished the book last night and I'd like to move it up a notch. How about almost-great.

Bryson's wit is low key, which takes some getting used to after some of the more outrageous stuff I saw in One For The Road. But as I kept reading, I liked it more. He also does share some great stories.

The book has a small, hand-drawn map in the front, but it is not enough for me. I still wouldn't have minded a few pictures of the places to put things in perspective. But I guess that is what the whole "descriptive travel" genre is about. But now I am going to have to pick up a book about Australia (preferably a kids version so I don't get hit with too many facts) just to get the visual.

I have some of his other books on my shelf, and I think I will put a some of those in the reading queue, right after books with funny titles.