In order (hopefully) to enhance this blog’s functionality as an archive of our lives, I thought it’d be fun to post my reactions to books I’m reading. I particularly enjoy hearing/reading book reviews of people I know. (One I recently enjoyed was our friend Steven’s reaction to The Shack by William P. Young.) If one of my personal friends likes a book, I find I’m much more likely to read it myself. So maybe this will inspire some of our blogstalkers (who we appreciate!) to check out some of these books themselves.

These won’t be reviews, per se, only my personal reactions. I won’t pretend to know what the crap I’m talking about when it comes to literary analysis. (Drea, having majored in English lit, and having many more difficult books under her belt than me, is clearly the literary genius of our family!)

So, without further ado, “In a Sunburned Country”.

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I was introduced to Bill Bryson’s books by my dad, who gave me a book about Bryson’s hiking adventures on the Appalachian Trail, called A Walk in the Woods. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I ordered a copy of In a Sunburned Country. All I knew was that it was about Australia. I was naturally intrigued.

Bryson took several trips there a couple years ago, and this book is essentially a combined travelogue of those trips. Australia is such a huge country that, even in several trips of considerable length, Bryson evidently barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do there. However, he did visit all the major provinces of the country (which could almost be separate countries themselves.) The result is a nicely proportioned preview of the whole Australian continent, complete with Bryson’s signature humor and wit.

I should expound on his humor a little. Bryson was born in Iowa, but lived in England for most of his adult life, only recently returning to the States. An avid appreciator of the “finer things” (expensive wine, the outdoors, seemingly boring museums), he has a certain witty, lofty, British-esque way of critiquing our Americanized, fast-food culture, which is present even in the Australian outback. (He was appalled to find a McDonald’s in Alice Springs.) While you’d think this would come off as snobby, he maintains a charmingly dignified yet self-deprecating humor in his analysis. I love it.

On one trip, Bryson takes us with him on a train ride from Sydney all the way across the continent to Perth, decidedly the most remote major city on Earth. On another trip, he and a friend drive 1,200 miles through the brutal heat and emptiness of the outback to the famous Ayers Rock (Uluru). He praises the unbeatable weather and friendly atmosphere of Sydney, and considers in wonder the sheer distance between Alice Springs and the next sign of civilized life in any direction. He marvels at the many distinctly Australian ways to experience excruciating death, including the tiny, lethal box jellyfish, the world’s most venomous creature. He enjoys the small-town charm of Australia’s rural farmlands, and takes in the glory of the Great Barrier Reef.

All of this he intersperses with relevant snippets of Australian history: its beginnings as a British prison colony, the numerous failed attempts of settlers to conquer (or even effectively explore) the outback, the bizarre story of a prime minister who went for a dip in the ocean in 1967 and was never seen again. (How crazy is that?)

Bryson is also the kind of writer that beckons your interest in the most presumably boring topics. One example in this book is a multi-page tangent in which he talks about some rocks in a bay that have been miraculously preserved in their original state for millions of years because the bay water’s unusually high salinity has prevented the kind of damage from the elements that would have otherwise altered the rocks. Now this, I imagine, sounds like a total snooze-fest for probably 95% of people my age. But Bryson makes it interesting. I can’t explain why.

Australia is so intriguing that a book on it could almost write itself. But Bryson’s masterful storytelling gives the book that page-turning appeal that left me wanting more when I finished it. I laughed out loud several times, and Australia has now been bumped up a few notches on places I want to visit. A worthwhile read for sure.

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