Posts tagged ‘vacation’

July 18, 2013

#57) Book review: “In A Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson

There are books that may be enjoyable but not particularly worthy of discussion and there are books that are worthy of discussion but not particularly enjoyable.  In that second category is Bill Bryson’s “In A Sunburned Country.”

After loving “A Walk in the Woods” and being disappointed by “Lost Continent”, I decided to try this travelogue of Australia, mainly because I was looking forward to reading a book that didn’t contain the phrase “Most Americans _____.”  (Yes, Americans are idiots, but Bryson usually points this out in a way that makes you wonder how he hasn’t pulled a muscle from patting himself on the back.)

Conversely, Bryson goes too far in the opposite direction with Australia. It’s like when someone wants you to meet their friend and have talked your ear off about how great this friend is to the extent that you hate them before you even meet them. Just as “Lost Continent” was essentially a laundry list of complaints and disappointments about America with no real conclusion or evolution, “Sunburned Country” lacks any significant tension or suspense as Bryson travels across the continent, experiencing one wonderful thing after another, using the words “charming”, “cheery” and (especially) “arresting” ad nauseum.

In general Bryson is stronger when delivering facts, not opinions. He has a definite knack for making history and science interesting without dumbing them down.  He partially makes good on his promise to describe the country’s unique and often deadly wildlife (the box jellyfish seems like a particularly tough customer.)  He’s unsparing in his description of how the Aborigines were treated and presents interesting questions on how they may have come to the island to begin with.  He paints a fairly engaging picture of the vast space and searing sun of the Outback, describing several of history’s ill-fated attempts to cross it.  He clearly loves Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, providing some historical background on each.   Still, the reality is that it took me almost two months to get through this book, ultimately bailing on the appendix about the Sydney Olympics.

What would have made “In A Sunburned Country” more effective?

Trimming some of the personal narrative would have helped.  Bryson spends nearly 30 pages on a visit with a friend in Victoria; while this section of the book has some good historical anecdotes and descriptions of the natural landscape, it easily could have been halved.  The friend certainly seems like a nice enough fellow but he’s just not that interesting.  More of a dramatic arc would have been nice.  In “A Walk in the Woods”, Bryson’s plight on the Appalachian Trail makes him seem more sympathetic to the reader; he earns his soap box time.  At the beginning of “Sunburned Country” he loves Australia; at the end of “Sunburned Country” he loves Australia.  Perhaps I may someday visit Australia and understand why he loves it; if so I will happily revise this review.  For now, I will stick to foreign vacations with a shorter flight time.

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August 1, 2011

#18) Back From Vacation!

I’m back.  To be sure, I actually cut my “vacation” short by about 9 hours; I felt as if my purpose had been served.

Being on hiatus from Trail Head Enterprises did feel weird, but after a while, resisting the temptation to see how my online presence was progressing felt more like having to remind myself to write the new date at the beginning of a year, rather than being unable to scratch an itch.  Without worrying about what to post on my blog or which photos to submit, I focused on other things: music, my relationship, friends and hiking just for the fun of it.  I revisited a few of my old favorites without the camera, just as I did the first few times I visited them, long before T.H.E. or Nobody Hikes in L.A. were born.

I learned a few things on my vacation.  First and foremost, I learned that don’t need to sweat the small details.  While I was gone, NHLA received a lot of site traffic; although I only posted 9 new hikes in July, it was still my busiest month ever.  My photos did well too in my absence, as did my Examiner articles (July ended up being my best month for the latter).   I also learned that what I miss the most is focusing on and sharing the message of my hiking; not the actual day to day operations over which I tend to fuss.  And I learned that while I enjoyed seeing how much site traffic I got and how many pictures were downloaded in my absence, I can go for over a week without having any idea and still enjoy my life.

I had also hoped that by spending less energy worrying about the small picture, the big picture might become clearer, as far as where I ultimately want T.H.E. to go.  I’m not sure if that happened, but as I return, I may find that new ideas and visions work their way into how I handle things.  I have no doubt that taking this time off will help me put more enthusiasm into my work, and that doing so will convert into results.

The vacation, overall, was a definite success, and the best part of it is that I know should I decide to take another one, I can do so any time.