Monday, October 24, 2005

The Happy Isles of Oceania - Paddling the Pacific

By the master himself, Paul Theroux. I think this is my favourite book by Theroux. However, it doesn't get off to an auspicious start as he is having marital problems and is worried that he might have cancer. So he is really down in the dumps as well as down under. New Zealand and Australia to be precise. Then he is off across the Pacific with his collapsible kayak and his all-observing eye. Albeit a slightly jaundiced one at times.

I like Paul Theroux because there is a lot of himself in his books and especially this one. He is not afraid to reveal his emotions and motivation, especially when asking difficult questions. I also like the fact that he doesn't mind putting the boot in to a whole country (Australia) and can be scathing of inequality at times, like for instance the way that Japanese interests were mercilessly robbing Solomon Islanders with impunity.

He does, however, also get close to the people he meets on his travels and that is always the illuminating part of reading books by Paul Theroux. Some reviewers have said that Paul Theroux is happiest when he is as far away from humans as possible. I disagree, I think that he is perhaps happiest when he is as far as possible from so called 'civilisation' as possible, and that is a whole different thing. By the way - he didn't have cancer.

Read this book, it is well worth your time and you can get it from or

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Clear Waters Rising - A Mountain Walk Across Europe

"And first prize for sticking to your objectives! is.... Nicholas Crane"

The author of this beautifully written book is a real, real travel writer. This guy started at the coast in the Northwest of Spain and then walked across a continuous line of mountains including the Cantabrian Mountains, the Pyrenees, The CĂ©vennes, The Alps, The Carpathians and then the Balkans to... Istanbul!

It is an incredible journey, no cheating, and full of the most marvellous detail. He writes about his low points, his high points, his recklessness and, his silliness as well. He loses it at times, mentally and physically dragged down in the middle of winter in snow covered mountains, with very little food and money, for instance. He gets chased by a bear in the Carpathians. He meets people that help him, with their stories, illuminate whole regions that I knew nothing about. He also has a good eye for the absurd.

He looks like a mild mannered university professor and was only married for one year when he went off and made this journey which then took another year and a half. You would think then, that he was a bit of a self-centred oaf. Not at all, but he was driven (not by car) to make this journey and complete it, although it was a close call at times. I would recommend this book highly.

You can buy it at or

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The books that got away

I don't know about you, but I have read loads of books over the years that have disappeared for one reason or another. Maybe because I let someone else read them (number one cause of disappearing books), or they got lost in a move. Or, I borrowed them from a library and I just thought I owned them! I even remember when I was living at home (many moons ago) and coming back from a holiday to find that my mother had thrown out a couple of hundred books tucked away in a cupboard! ("Well, I thought you had read them already!")

So, now I hanker after books that I would like to re-read but can't remember the title. There are two old books in particular that I can describe but...

The first is the story of two guys who took an Austin A40 right the way down through the old Soviet Union in the fifities or sixties I think. I would love to get hold of that again.

And the other is a similar idea, but these two guys took a 1930's Ford or Austin over the Andes!

Both these books have stuck in my memory. If anyone knows who they are by or can give me a clue, then that would be great.

I would love to hear from anyone else who is looking for that elusive travel book to read again. You never know, someone may recognise it!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Fortune-Teller Told Me - Earthbound Travels in the Far East

This is a book by Tiziano Terzani. Great name - Great book!

This man is a hugely experienced correspondent in the Far East for Der Spiegel. He has lived for over 25 years there, travelling around from country to country. He was advised by a Hong Kong fortune teller not to fly for the whole of a particular year, and that is precisely what he tried to do!

This is the story of that year. How he carried on working but going overland, and also about his encounters with the many fortune tellers and shaman he visited during that year. I won't tell you whether he is a believer in this sort of thing or not. You can find out for yourself when you read it, which you surely must.

I never expected very much from this book as I had never heard of this man. I was so, so disappointed when I had finished it (you know how it is when you don't want a book to finish) and wanted to move to Asia straightaway. It is one of the best books (never mind travel books) that I have read. It is beautifully written, evocative and by someone who loves the Far East. It really is a quite extraordinary story.

You can buy this book from or

Friday, October 07, 2005

Long Way Round - Chasing Shadows Across The World

Famous actor and son of famous director motorbike around the world the 'wrong way', have arguments, get petulant, have touching experience and get back just in time - for what? Oh yeah, to get back to being a famous actor and son of famous director. That's about it.

Well, I should say more. I don't know much about the other guy (Charley Boorman) but I always thought that Ewan McGregor seemed like quite a nice person. We all know he could be a good actor (Trainspotting), A 'not bad' singer (Moulin Rouge) and a chancer (Star Wars - Episode 10 - Take the money and run), but I never really had him down as being a bit too 'precious' for his own good. And that is the way he came over to me... a little bit spoilt. Yes, I know I don't know the guy, but I have to assume things from his public profile.

So, to this book... I felt like it was written by a PR, with a few bits from Ewan's and Charley's diaries to give it authenticity. I am sure they wrote every bit of it, but it feels like long stretches of nothing and then something a bit interesting. Mind you, if we were being literal here, I imagine that travelling across Russia on a motorbike could be a bit like that.

The thing is, I was looking forward to this book, but in the end I was disappointed. Maybe because it didn't have any obvious point to it, and if it did, then it wasn't very well explained. So, it is not a dire book, but it is average. Maybe it was all written a bit too fast, and perhaps there is the 'in-depth' version yet to come. I will probably buy it as well!

If you want to make your own mind up then you can buy it at or

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Strange Places, Questionable People

This is one of my favourite books. The author is John Simpson, the World Affairs Editor for the BBC. Strictly speaking this is not a travel book, but a loose autobiography. However, I would defy anyone to say that the story he tells would not be relevant for any traveller.

It's not so much that he tells you how he got from A to B, or how he negotiated through a difficult situation, but more to do with the humanity behind his travels. He is very, very good at seeing the strengths and weaknesses of people and of himself. He has seen some appalling things, but conversely, he tells his stories with a humour that is compelling. He can also be very funny.

Most of the book relates to his life and his time as a reporter for the BBC. On one of his early assignments he was punched in the stomach by the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. He later travelled on the same plane as Ayatollah Khomeini when he returned to Iran, he witnessed the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the release of Nelson Mandela.

John Simpson has been at many of the most significant events of the last 40 years reporting for us. Apart from being a very good reporter, he is a damn good writer as well. If you wish, you can get the book from or

Thrills By Proxy

I have always loved travel writing. The funnier or the more outlandish the better. Over the years I have read some great books and articles about amazing people in incredible places. The other sort of writing that I like is the 'experience' book. You know the sort of thing - 'I lived for 2 years in a shack near Timbuktu squeezing Oranges'. However, there are actually a few good examples out there and I will review those as well, in time.

So, the thinking behind this blog is to share my thoughts about some of these books and hopefully you will be inspired to maybe read the book, or even go travelling yourself!

By the way, I will also tell you about the odd book that I felt was either lazy or irritating in some way. Or just plain boring!

I am not too bothered about these novels being absolutely truthful, I mean why let the truth get in the way of a good yarn? So don't base your circumnavigation of the world on the facts in these books!

I hope you enjoy. First review coming up soon