Fresh-air Fiend: Travel Writings, 1985-2000 Paperback – 4 Aug 2011
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We know Paul Theroux the traveller: grumpy and cantankerous, slouching through India or China or Patagonia, drawn to the sleazy, easily annoyed, often bored. What we don't get to see in books like The Old Patagonian Express and Riding the Iron Rooster is the Theroux who has a home life (an American, he lived in England for two decades), a passion for a hobby (kayaking) and who, besides travelling, has written almost 20 novels, including The Mosquito Coast. Fresh-Air Fiend: Travel Writings,1985-2000 gives a rare glimpse of Theroux on home ground.
The essays are arranged around topics like the Pacific, writings on other people's books and time. The book takes its title from the second and strongest section of Fresh-Air Fiend. Theroux the traveller is perpetually attracted to the challenging: here he finds it kayaking on the ocean close to his childhood home of Medford, Massachusetts. In "Dead Reckoning to Nantucket" he paddles across the treacherous Muskeget Channel: "My dream of paddling through the wilderness of open water was the dream of someone who had had enough of foreign travel for a while, of places that were crowded and thoroughly tame, of the tedium and sleep-deprecation of long plane journeys and of the yappy turbulence of other travellers." Other sections revisit subjects Theroux has tackled in earlier books: there are long and interesting essays on China ("Chinese Miracles"), Hong Kong ("A Letter from Hong Kong on the Eve of the Hand-over"), Christmas Island ("Christmas Island: Bombs and Birds") and other travel writers ("Thoreau's Cape Cod").
There are standard Theroux moments here: an insomniac Theroux pacing through Amsterdam's red light district, sleeping naked on a tropical island. But what emerges is a portrait of the inward Theroux, pensive as he turns 50, pondering what made him a writer ("I remembered everything") and what makes for good travel writing ("prescient without making predictions"). Thoroux's account of his own life journey is, as it turns out, every bit as interesting as his meditations on more far-flung destinations. --Tamsin Todd --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Paul Theroux was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1941. He has written many works of fiction and travel writing, including The Last Train to Zona Verde, Dark Star Safari, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Elephanta Suite, A Dead Hand, The Tao of Travel and The Lower River. The Mosquito Coast and Dr Slaughter have both been made into successful films. Paul Theroux divides his time between Cape Cod and the Hawaiian islands. His most recent work is Deep South, which is published by Hamish Hamilton.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.