A few months back, the Time To Read podcast book-club conducted a survey among its listeners to see what GENRE of book we should read next. It was a tight race and came down to Historical Romance and Armchair Travel.
Armchair Travel won out.
I’ve enjoyed Armchair Travel and other types of travel writing for many years, but during COVID I’ve seen an increase of people asking for this type of book. Armchair travel is different than a guide, although you can find many of them shelved in the same section. While guidebooks are designed to give the reader practical advice on places to stay, visit, and eat in a given country or city, Armchair Travel is all about seeing the world filtered through the eyes of a particular writer. Keen observation, a yearning for adventure, and a wry sense of humour are the traits of some of my favourite travel writers. It’s not enough to learn dry facts and figures about other countries/cultures; fans of travel writing enjoy seeing the world through another’s eyes, and the more the writer can blend in to their surroundings, the better. Like Paul Theroux says, “The greatest justification for travel is not self-improvement but rather performing a vanishing act, disappearing without a trace.”
So with this in mind, we’re going to read In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson.
Bill Bryson’s first travel book, The Lost Continent, came out in 1989 and chronicled his somewhat aimless road trip across America. After living in England for almost 20 years, he decided to move back to the United States. Before doing so, he takes one last trip around the country using only public transportation. You can read about that trip in his Notes from a Small Island.
In a Sunburned Country is Bryson at the height of his powers. His astute observations, historical anecdotes, and wry sense of humour are all present here. At least they were twenty years ago when I first read it. Some books hold up, and others have a sneaky and disappointing way of NOT AGING WELL (I’m looking at you: Love in the Time of Cholera). I wonder in which category Sunburned Country belongs? You’ll have to tune in on September 2 to find out.
And as always, make sure you find plenty of TIME TO READ. -Trevor