Thursday, October 04, 2007

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

By now I should have read or listened to In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson's entertaining journey across the island/country/continent of Australia. The book has been around for seven years, during which several people have said, "Hey, mate, give it a go!" I had already enjoyed A Walk in the Woods, his difficult hike along the Appalachian Trail, which in a bizarre way made me want to try the trail, too.

However, I had also tried to read I'm a Stranger Here Myself, his trip around the U.S., which I found irksome. In that book, I felt that he belittled the clerks, waitresses, and other small town folk he met. I only read a couple of chapters in before I gave it up. Now I wonder whether it was really so bad or whether I was in a bad mood. Maybe I stopped too soon. Maybe he was having a bad time.

I had no problems with In a Sunburned Country. Within minutes of starting to listen to it on audio book, read by the author himself, I was laughing out loud about some witty observations about the enormity of the land down under. Perhaps it is a crazy place because of the ill-conceived way in which it was colonized, Bryson poses, as he muses on its history. As a listener I was impressed not only by his wit but also by the fact that he had done his homework.

Bryson does find it a problem getting everywhere he wants to go, for the distances are so great. He and his various companions rent a series of sometimes less than ideal vehicles. He also at odd times decides "It's a pretty day, I think I'll walk," which of course leads to sunburn and the great need for several rounds of beer. Some wild dogs scare him pretty badly, and the flies can be maddening.

I like that he goes into every museum that he finds and reports on the wonders therein. It is just what I would do. There are some pretty strange things presented with great skill by the museum professionals in the country. Oh, I wish I could go to Australia.

I should mention poisonous creatures. Bryson finds that there are more in Australia than anywhere else in the world. Snakes, spiders, fish, worms, and so on. He is always watching for them.

There are lots of copies of this book in libraries, so you can probably find one pretty quickly. Enjoy yourself. Prepare to laugh.

Bryson, Bill. In a Sunburned Country. Broadway Books, 2000. ISBN 0767903862; Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio, p2000. 10 compact discs, 055350259X.

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