Monday, May 16, 2011
Mini-Review of Bill Bryson's "In A Sunburned Country"
I recently have been on a reading jag involving inhaling as many of Bill Bryson's books as possible. The latest milestone is his tour de force of Australia entitled "In a Sunburned Country." Any travel writer - and Bryson is far more than a "mere" travel writer - who is able to make me want to book the next flight on Qantas is someone worth reading. As he does in all of his books, Bryson uses his travels through Australia to feed the reader delicious and gritty morsels of history, culture and human interest.
The reviewer for the New York Times said it perfectly: "If there is one book with which to get oriented before departure or en route to Australia, this is it.
Allow me to share a brief excerpt from this work to give you a small taste of Bryson's style as he reacts to the antipodian continent and culture:
Driving in a remote part of the Outback, Bryson found that the only radio station whose signal he could now receive was broadcasting an interminable cricket match. The author's send-up of the commentator's dialogue had me howling with delight.
"'Pritchard begins his long run in from short stump. He bowls and . . .oh, he's out! Yes, he's got him. Longwilley is caught leg-before in middle slops by Grattan. Well, now, what do you make of that, Neville?'
'That's definitely one for the books, Bruce. I don't think I've seen offside medium-slow-fast-pace bowling to match it since Baden-Powell took Rangachangabanga for a maiden ovary at Bangalore in 1948.'
I had stumbled into the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on the radio.
After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively, that was merely an unintended side effect. I do not wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players - more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning." (Pages 105-6)
And so it goes for 300 rollicking pages. If you have not yet been exposed to the mind and pen of Bill Bryson, I invite you to take the plunge. Come on in; the water is fine. If you are already a fan, then add this to your long list of treasured Bryson titles.