Fresh-Air Fiend


This week’s book was written by the famed travel writer Paul Theroux, though a “book” is probably a misnomer.  It is in fact, a collection of short stories, previously written for a disparate group of magazines, and re-jigged into this collection of travel writings 1985-2000 (Fresh-Air Fiend ISBN 978-0-241-95055-5, reprinted 2011).

Author Theroux is an American, with decided ideas on life and living, and where.  He also comes across as someone who hates American tourists, though he will have a lot of supporters there!  He is also an aging radical, and much of his early writings reflect this, though like all teenage rebels, pragmatism eventually is the winner.

He describes his transition to writing as, “I was not embraced as a traveler, I was seen as a stranger, sometimes a dangerous one.  My experience of that conflict made me a writer.”

He is happy to experience any arena of conflict, and even becomes embroiled in the conflicts in juvenile lust.  “The fact that something is forbidden or deemed wicked, has made it more pleasurable, especially for those of us who grew up in an atmosphere of repression.  Half the country breaks state laws in the bedroom.  Obviously that is part of the fun in living in places like Alabama and Georgia.”  So now, has Theroux interested you enough to travel there?

His visit(s) to China showed the rate of change in that country, and Theroux, with much foresight mentions, “… one of the numerous auto accidents I saw in an average day as a metaphor for modernized China – the so-called miracle you read about every time you open a magazine or newspaper.  Seen from a distance the country does seem wondrous, but up close it is messier and more complicated.  Like most economic miracles it is also an ecological disaster.”  Indeed, Theroux writes that there is no reason for tourists to go to the manufacturing cities of the economic zones.  “Tourists would be in the way.”

One of the items relates to his going to an uninhabited island in the Republic of Palau.  Once again, a humorous report of his looking for solitude, though remaining connected with the world at large with a host of electronic devices including sat-nav and an emergency rescue device.  He also says that Palau has 400 species of hard coral.  (I’m on the next canoe.)

A weighty read at 450 pages for B. 495.  Separate short stories, it is very easy to pick up and put down, but if you are looking for hints on where to go in Bechuanaland and the cheapest hotels, then this is not the book for you.  It is very much the personal muses of a well-traveled, but very individual character.  In many ways it reminded me of books about cars by Jeremy Clarkson (presenter of Top Gear BBC).  Humorous, slick and teaches the reader nothing about cars.  Similarly, Theroux is humorous, slick, and the book teaches you nothing about travel.  If you are a Theroux fan, you will love the book.  For me it was, as I mentioned before, easy to pick up and put down.  I chose the latter.