Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Two Travel Books

With circumstances being what they are, I am unable to travel, so I very much enjoy reading about other people’s adventures. Here are two longtime favorites and their latest offerings.

deep-south-cover Deep South Paul Theroux writes 2 very different kinds of books, I don’t like his fiction at all, it’s too hyperbolic for me. But I really like his nonfiction, which is nearly all travel books, often a journey by railway in a foreign land. Deep South is his latest and is quite different, because not only does he return to the country of his birth(the U.S.), but he makes repeated trips, which is not something he has done previously. Visiting a number of southern states, sometimes going back to a town he has been to before, he mostly avoids the big cities and stays mainly in small towns and rural areas. In a way, this is more a book about people, than places.
He divides the book into seasons, with each section separated by an essay on a related topic, such as Southern authors, and tries to distill what makes the South so different from the rest of America. There is its history to be sure, but also a certain type of hospitality and generosity that is more open than in other places. He portrays a land that feels almost timeless in its poverty and development and repeatedly reminds him of third world countries that he’s seen. But the personalities he encounters are memorable and often likable, despite the difficulties of their lives. He can’t help but be frustrated with how little is being done to improve things in the area and his stark observations give power to the need. Lest I make this book sound like a gloomy piece of sociology, let me reassure you there is much to enjoy. In the pages, we live in an area over the course of a year and it’s often described in poetic prose. Like his other books, it is this style and insight that makes Theroux’s travel books so rewarding.

Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2015 464 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0544323520

Road to Little Dribbling
dribbling-cover Bill Bryson is becoming a curmudgeon. I have read nearly every one of his books, even reviewed a few, such as One Summer and A Walk in the Woods and don’t recall him being quite so grumpy. His sense of humor is still intact, which is a good thing, because otherwise his complaining would be unbearable. I agree with some of the topics he complains about, such as the modern laziness of littering and overdevelopment of wild lands, but his observations are tinged not with his usual enthusiasm, but of pessimism.
In this book, he sets out to cover the longest distance across the UK, as determined by laying his pencil diagonal on a map, thus making “The Bryson Line”, which stretches from the northern Cape Wrath to the seaside resort of Bognor Regis on the southern coast. Though he does revisit some of the same towns as he did in Notes From a Small Island, most are new locations and he reports with historical and personal anecdotes. While the information he imparts is as interesting as always, there is an underlying crabbiness that makes this a less fun trip for the reader. Only at the end, do we find his customary high spirits and it’s made all the more sharper by its contrast with the rest of the book. I do like the original cover of the book, with the sheep in much the same pose as the bear on A Walk in the Woods.

Doubleday 2016 400 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0385539289

4 comments on “Two Travel Books

  1. polloplayer
    October 17, 2016

    Deep South is on my bookshelf and you have reminded me to add it to my nightstand stack😊 My favorite recent travel book is Sea Island by Adam Nicolson. The Outer Hebrides. I will never get there, but thanks to him I have been there.

  2. Alexis Chateau
    October 17, 2016

    What’s preventing you from traveling?

  3. Anne
    October 17, 2016

    I have read and loved all Bill Bryson’s books and I absolutely agree about this one. He has indeed become a grumpy old man and little seems to please him on his travels. Much of what he would have relished in the past now irritates him and, with his new English passport, he has acquired the tendency to moan about how everything was better before.

    There are still things to enjoy in this book but, too often, the tone and the language (I don’t remember quite so much swearing in his books before, in fact I don’t remember any) leave you wading through sections where in the past you’d have been skipping alongside him. I was nearly as grumpy myself when I got to the last page. I so often wanted to say to him “Get over it” and I do wish his editor or his agent had said it occasionally.

    The cover of the English edition is I think even better than the US one, in the style of the traditional English seaside postcard.

  4. Jackie
    October 18, 2016

    I completely agree, Anne and you said it better than I did, glad to know I’m not the only one who feels this way about the changes in Bryson’s writing.
    Polloplayer, thanks for the recommendation, I’ll see if I can find that book at my library.

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