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Fresh-air Fiend: Travel Writings, 1985-2000 Paperback – 22 Feb 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (22 Feb. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140281096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140281095
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,597,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Paul Theroux may be pompous, self-important, cynical, and grumpy. He may even be, as accused by a heckler in Australia, "a wanker". So what? The man is prolific--having penned 36 books--and when he's inspired, his insights and sparkling writing are so startling that it's easy to forgive him for his occasional crankiness. Besides, as he reminds readers frequently, he is a man who takes pen to paper for a living; as the title essay points out: "Normal, happy, well-balanced individuals seldom become imaginative writers...."

In Fresh Air Fiend, Theroux's pen serves him well with astute, lively pieces that stray far beyond simple "travel essays" and reveal his self-inflicted lifestyle of compulsive travel, writing and alienation. In this collection--containing mostly previously published magazine pieces written over the past 15 years--there is a strong autobiographical streak, as well as historical perspectives and a sardonic view on ageing. "One of the more bewildering aspects of growing older", he writes in "Memory and Creation", "is that people constantly remind you of things that never happened".

Now nearly 60, Theroux has lived a rich, varied life: the book jumps from post-Mao China and years spent as an Africa-based Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s to turtle watching in Hawaii and kayaking on Cape Cod; the jumbled collection even includes pieces on other travel writers (Bruce Chatwin, Graham Greene and William Least Heat-Moon) and the film adaptation of his novel The Mosquito Coast. A chronic sense of aloneness permeates all these pieces--be it the lost traveller paddling through fog, the lone writer living without a phone, or the hermetic trekker who can't speak the native language. Most touching: a short sketch of a road trip when he's lost, his wife is anxious and the children are fighting; Theroux doesn't want the moment to end and soon enough he returns to his self-imposed alienation. It's that perpetual sense of loneliness and not fitting in that seems to motivate Theroux in many of these essays. Theroux may be getting older, even nostalgic, but as these vibrant essays show, he sure isn't getting stale. --Melissa Rossi,

About the Author

Paul Theroux was born in Medford Massachusetts, in 1941, and published his first novel, WALDO, in 1967. His subsequent novels include PICTURE PALACE, winner of the Whitbread Prize for Fiction, THE MOSQUITO COAST, and the hugely acclaimed, KOWLOON TONG. His travel books include THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR and THE PILLARS OF HERCULES.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Fresh air fiend is the newest collection of travel essays and more from Paul Theroux. At first I was hesitant to buy it; I have read all his travel books and thought there would be nothing new. But although a couple of the pieces were repeats, most were not published in book form before. I particularly like the section of the book where he talks about travel writing--of his and other authors. Always a pleasure, Paul Theroux's latest again makes me wish I was on a train somewhere with pen in hand!
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Format: Paperback
A good book although it is hard to get into at first. Not 100% a travel book but more a mix of factual analyses of favourite writers and personal goals and losses.
In parts very good and always well written. It is often funny and has a great deal of fantastic travel that we all look for. recommended for those who want a mix between travel and fact.
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By A Customer on 26 Oct. 2000
Format: Hardcover
this book turned out to be a dissapointment; the writing style is quite "flat", so even if the stories are not too appealing I couldn't even appreciate the book for the style. Some of the stories seem like an excuse to publish a book, if Theroux was unknown I wonder whether the publisher would look at these writings with interest. If you are looking for more after reading some of Theroux's most popular travel accounts you are in for dissapointment. I'd call this "a collection of unpublished writings for a good reason"; if you haven't read everything from this still amazing writer check other titles.
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Format: Paperback
with lots of reflections about his journeys. One of my favourites of his books. Inspiring.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x8aa7d15c) out of 5 stars 39 reviews
55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8a93ee10) out of 5 stars Vintage Theroux - a treat for fans 23 Aug. 2000
By Michael J. Edelman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The title of "Fresh Air Fiend" is a little misleading, as this is a collection of more than just Theroux's travel writings. There are a number of essays on other topics, including some reviews of other writers; I especially enjoyed his enthusiatic review of McPhee's "Looking For a Ship", itself a personal favorite of mine. For so prolific an author Theroux's writing is always of the highest caliber; there are no wasted words in a Theroux novel or travelogue, and yet no important detail goes unrecorded or described. Given this you can see where his enthusiasm for McPhee comes from; his admiration is obvious and freely given.
The discussions of Theroux's own novels, and how he came to write them, are also particularly enjoyable and illuminating. The story of "Mosquito Coast" covers not only the writing of the book, but the production of the movie as well, and Theroux's description of how it brought out the "Allie" in all involved- Producer, director, actors- is both witty and revealing. The story behind "Milroy the Magician" will prove interesting to anyone who has read "The Happy Isles of Oceania".
The travel stories, which do make up the bulk of the book, will be familiar in scope and tone to anyone who has read Theroux. Here he is, driving through remote Africa, wandering about in Singapore or kayaking alone around Christmas Island amid the wildlife.
Reviews of Theroux's travel writing often center on what a misanthrope he must be, or on the accuracy of details and minutia contained in the books. But Theroux himself points out in an essay on his late friend Bruce Chatwin that his books are not meant to be a guide to a country, a people or even a city; they are about the trip itself- his trip, not yours or anyone else's trip. In that sense, even his worst critics must admit that he succeeds marvelously well.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8a93ee64) out of 5 stars A Moving Read 13 Jun. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As a once world traveler I was empowered by Mr. Theroux' writings. They encompassed not only the beauty, confusion and enlightenment of travel, but also the baffling loneliness and inevitable ethnocentrism. I found myself nodding in agreement, and moved that someone else had spoken truths about me of which I was not aware. It is not only the journey of a body, but the journey of a man through his life. This is a must read for anyone wondering about the world outside and the world within.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8a3cd3b4) out of 5 stars Paul's Peregrinations 6 Feb. 2001
By Rick Hawkins - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Paul Theroux is highly prolific, highly opinionated, a bit of an intellectual snob and a very good writer. He has produced a large body of fiction as well as many travel books like "Riding the Iron Rooster" (across China by train), "The Pillars of Hercules" (recounting his peregrinations around the Mediterranean) and "The Happy Islands of Oceania" (where he briefly gets stuck into Australians). Theroux is like a more choleric and worldlier Bill Bryson except that he is a writer of greater depth who was probably appalled by Bryson's effusive and almost fulsome praise of Australia in "Down Under". The latter writer wears his heart on his sleeve and his humour is more penetrable whereas Theroux is also capable of great wit and biting humour (this is especially evinced in a story from his collection "My Other Life", where he recounts his meeting (the reader isn't sure if it is a completely fictional account) with a serene Her Majesty and an extremely irascible Duke of Edinburgh). While there is humour in "Fresh-Air Fiend" there is no laugh-out-loud stuff like the piece just mentioned or like most of Bryson's tales. Sometimes you can get irritated by Theroux's somewhat supercilious superiority but there is no denying the quality of his writing. Theroux has none of the couch-potato tendencies of Bryson and would probably scoff at Bryson's Appalachian epiphanies in "A Walk in the Woods" - he is well aware of the dangers of solipsism in a solitary travelling writer, as he says in a piece about camping in the Maine woods: " reader ought to be subjected to a pompous discussion of the wilderness experience and the Meaning of Life." Now, is this a manifesto, a dig at one or many other travel writers or just an acidly apt warning to any writer? With Theroux, it is hard to tell, but through the haughtiness which colours much of his work (and provides us with much of the humour because it is funny reading a witty person's description of clueless people) we sometimes get a sense of his vulnerabilities, perhaps even (dare I say it?) his "pain". Nevertheless, we are rarely disabused of any notion that he prefers anyone else's company to his own. He makes many cutting observations of travelling companions, who are generally people he has been forced to commingle with in a railway carriage or on a cruise, yet while he is not a total misanthropist, either towards people in general (he seeks out local people to talk to while travelling) or even other writers (there is a warm appreciation of the work of the late Bruce Chatwin in this volume), there is a lingering smell of cold fish in his prose. Not that this should put you off reading Theroux - as I noted, he is extremely prolific and you are bound to find something by him you like. For Theroux fresh air and wild places are the perfect antidote to the constrictions of a writerly life: "I grow sick of being indoors, alone all day, for several years, needing isolation and at the same time hating the hostage-like atmosphere of alienation. I am sure some writers love this monkish inactivity, but a long spell of it drives me nuts. I think it is also physically unhealthy to be incarcerated like this." And he is a particular type of traveler, as all those train books attest: "Plane travel is very simple and annoying and a cause of anxiety; it is like being at the dentist's, even the chairs are like dentist's chairs. Overland travel is a great deal more trouble, and very slow, but it is uncomfortable in a way that is completely human and often reassuring." "Fresh-Air Fiend" is a far ranging collection and there are some long articles with real substance, especially about China, on which he wrote extensively in "Riding the Iron Rooster". The piece "Down the Yangtze" allows him to compare the huge changes that have occurred in China since he wrote Rooster, when China was emerging from Maoism and all the attendant disasters like the Cultural Revolution. Theroux's piece is thorough and full of epigrammatic observations: "The Chinese have a genius for putting up buildings that are instantly seedy and almost ruinous. The dust clings, the cracks appear as soon as the ribbon is cut. Every building acquires a mid-nineteenth century look almost overnight." (Theroux certainly doesn't attempt to ingratiate himself to a country!) There is also a well-researched and cogent piece on Hong Kong just before its return to China. Theroux has been everywhere but seems to have a particular affinity with Africa - he lived in Uganda as a young man and this book has a long article about sailing down the Zambezi - and a particular fascination with (if not affection for) China. "Fresh-Air Fiend" is as good an introduction as any to his extensive travel writing and because it is a compilation, it covers a whole peripatetic's world.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8a941108) out of 5 stars A New Way to Travel 26 Oct. 2001
By Timothy Ryan - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have not previously read Paul Theroux so I cannot compare "Fresh-Air Fiend" against the margin of his prolific output. But as someone who travels extensively for a living and for pleasure, I can tell you that Theroux certainly gives new meaning to the world "travel writer".
With ascerbic wit he provides a wake-up call to those whose travel rarely goes beyond the tour bus window. He gives rich detail to his writing -- describing not only the place but the skies, the earth, the flora, the people, the smells. Travel is not always about destination but the journey to get there and Theroux is a master at bringing us to the very place he happens to be. His mix of political and historical commentary also pauses the reader to think of places beyond their obvious pleasures,colors and travel brochure facts.
He has a rare and candid ability to introduce the reader not only to the people living at the source but also those traveling to the source. We find humor in his descriptions and yet wonder if we could be laughing at our very selves. Through his eyes we become better travelers and from his voice we give second thought to the impact we hope to make as we travel throughout the world.
His travels in Africa are breathlessly exciting; his early thoughts from visiting China are eeirly accurate; his adventures in kayaks will have us all paddling in strange waters and seeing the world, perhaps for the first time.
His stories of his stories are fascinating and we applaud him for introducing us to his favorite writers and works of travel. He leaves us with much to think about and volumes of other's work to absorb. This is a wonderful guide book for anyone who likes to travel, hopes to travel or simply enjoys colorful, well-written, thoughful detail on places and people near and far.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8a941288) out of 5 stars Perfect Introduction 27 Jun. 2002
By Enjoying the Ride - Published on
Format: Paperback
If anyone requires an introduction to Theroux's work, this book is it, combining the best elements from his works of fiction and non-fiction. Theroux is perhaps one of the few writers in the US who offers something that is interesting to his readers, as opposed to oftentimes mundane or pedestrian observations that most of us have arrived at already or would under similar circumstances.

For one thing Theroux is particularly good at stripping away the pretentions of the English lower-middle class. (He does this with many classes, but this one seems to be the victim more often than others) Take , for example, his note on on life in the inner suburbs of London: 'the secrets,the hurts, the whispers, the stifled lust...the savagery of the workplace; the eternally twitching curtains.' If anybody has spent time in this area, or have been inflicted by the presence of those with similar roots, I suspect he/she will find more than enough satisfaction in knowing that others are on the same page, as it were.

Almost all of the chapters in this collection are worth reading, and some several times over. Try "Parasites I Have Known," and his views on other writers, from Chatwin to Simpson.

All and all, a good read, and Fresh Air Fiend should be a nice introduction to other Theroux pieces.
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