Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Why I read it: Still questing my way through all the Bill Bryson titles.

Summary: A Bryson-style ramble through Australia and its history.

My Thoughts: Well, who would have guessed that Bill Bryson had it in him? Although he occasionally slips into his old surly self - after all, not every hotel owner is perfect - for the most part he glows about the country and its people. I'm starting to wonder which Australian agency paid him to write an oversized tourism brochure.

As usual, Bryson uncovers the cads and kooks of history, and proves that the more removed people are from society at large (and in this case I refer to the general isolation of Australia relative to the rest of the English-speaking world), the kookier they can get. The country has produced its share of loonies. Bryson's prose probably makes them seem even more so, but that's the fun of his books. And the funny thing about it is that so many of them we've never heard of. How often does your nightly news refer to Australia? for any reason? It's just not on the American radar screen.

One line in this book caught me by surprise. Being of a naturalist bent, as my fulltime job is as the director of education of a natural science center, I was taken aback by the thought that there are such vast spaces of Australia yet unexplored that there may very well be plants that go extinct before anyone ever sees them. What a sad, weird thought.

I happened to grab a copy of the book that had the added pages from Bryson's newspaper writing on the Sydney Olympic games. If you should get a chance to read it, take it in from above, compare it to the rest of his work. It's funny to see how he pulls his punches in his newspaper work. It's understandable, of course, as one must always consider audience, but he's deftly able to suppress his inner crab when necessary, and unleash it when its allowable.

There are many people out there who are desirous of visiting Australia, but for whatever reason are unable to do so. This book let's you do so from the armchair by the fire next to the six pack of Foster's, but do yourself a favor - grab a map and keep it handy. While we uncosmopolitan Americans may have some notion of where cities in Europe are, we're instantly lost in Australia. The geography lesson will be worth it.