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25 Nov, 2016

The Wonder Trail

/ posted in: Reading The Wonder Trail The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely
on June 14th 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Travel
Published by DUTTON
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Steve Hely, writer for The Office and American Dad!, and recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, presents a travel book about his journey through Central and South America. Part travel book, part pop history, part comic memoir, Hely’s writing will make readers want to reach for their backpack and hiking boots.The Wonder Trail is the story of Steve’s trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America, presented in 102 short chapters.  The trip was ambitious – Steve traveled through Mexico City, ancient Mayan ruins, the jungles and coffee plantations and remote beaches of Central America, across the Panama Canal, by sea to Colombia, to the wild Easter celebration of Popayán, to the Amazon rainforest, the Inca sites of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, to the Galápagos Islands, the Atacama Desert of Chile, and down to the jagged and wind-worn land of Patagonia at the very end of the Western Hemisphere.
Steve’s plan was to discover the weird, wonderful, and absurd in Central and South America, to seek and find the incredible, delightful people and experiences that came his way. And the book that resulted is just as fun. A blend of travel writing, history, and comic memoir, The Wonder Trail will inspire, inform, and delight.”


I loved this book.  I listened to the audio and the author’s enthusiasm for his trip was infectious.  He was so excited that he got to spend time fishing in the Panama Canal, for example.  He set off on this trip with no set plan other than a few dates where he would be meeting up with friends at a specific spot.  I’m never brave (or crazy) enough to travel like that.   He’s the kind of traveler who always finds interesting people to talk to in bars.  They tell the best stories.

The other thing I loved about this book is that it led me to other books.  The author read a lot of books set in and about South America.  He listed many of them.  Since I was listening to the audio it was hard to remember a lot of them but I did mutter some names over and over until I got to a place where I could write them down.  In fact, I’ve already read one of his recommendations and it was as exciting as he promised it would be.

If you are looking to read more books set in South America, this is a great place to start.

25 Feb, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling

/ posted in: Reading The Road to Little Dribbling The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
on October 8th 2015
Pages: 400
Genres: Travel, Europe, Great Britain
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in England

Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.
Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more.

Goodreads

Bill Bryson is really grumpy in this book.  I’m a big Bryson fan.  I think I’ve read everything he’s written.  He’s never veered far from curmudgeonly but he’s downright peevish in this book.  He’s telling people to fuck off repeatedly.  Fair warning if that kind of thing bothers you.

To start this journey he drew a line on a map connecting the farthest points he could find on a map of the United Kingdom.

 

He started his trip from Bognor Regis in the south and meandered his way north in the general direction of this line.  This made me spend some quality time with Google maps.  I thought I had in my head a general idea of where he was going.  Then suddenly he was in Wales.  I didn’t know which one of us was not understanding geography.  I did find that I didn’t have a very good grasp on English geography – although I was spot on about Wales.  I would have sworn the Lake District was northeast of London along with Stratford-upon- Avon and the Cotswolds.  Turns out none of these things are true.

He alternates taking lovely walks with complaining about British customer service and the tendency of British people to litter.  He does have a strange nostalgia for museums full of taxidermy which I personally hate.  He can’t stand shops selling pieces of wood with pithy sayings on them.  He seems to get a bit tipsy more than is probably healthy or wise.

There was more in this book about his life outside of writing than there has been in other books.  He talks about doing speeches to politicians and filming TV shows.

I was disappointed that he didn’t narrate the audiobook.  That’s one of the joys of listening to his books on audio.  The narrator did a good job but it took me several hours to get over the fact that he wasn’t Bill Bryson and to stop hearing a phantom version of Bill Bryson’s voice in my head reading along with the narrator.

Bottom line – Listen to this one if you are a fan but don’t let this be a first or third Bryson book.

 

11 Feb, 2016

The Road to McCarthy

/ posted in: Reading The Road to McCarthy The Road to McCarthy by Pete McCarthy
on February 1st 2005
Pages: 384
Genres: Travel, Essays & Travelogues, Biography & Autobiography, General
Published by HarperCollins
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Pete McCarthy established one cardinal rule of travel in his bestselling debut, McCarthy's Bar: "Never pass a bar with your name on it." In this equally wry and insightful follow-up, his characteristic good humor, curiosity, and thirst for adventure take him on a fantastic jaunt around the world in search of his Irish roots -- from Morocco, where he tracks down the unlikely chief of the McCarthy clan, to New York, and finally to remote Mc-Carthy, Alaska. The Road to McCarthy is a quixotic and anything-but- typical Irish odyssey that confirms Pete McCarthy's status as one of our funniest and most incisive writers.

Goodreads

It all starts when the author hears that there is still a king of the McCarthy clan.  Not everyone agrees that this is a legitimate title but he wants to meet him.  The king is hard to find – enemies probably – and lives in Morocco.  From there, Pete McCarthy is off to follow the Irish diaspora.  He is half-Irish and half-English and grew up in England.  His English accent is sometimes a problem in discussions in the most Irish of strongholds.

After Tangiers he travels to New York and attempts to crash the St. Patrick’s Day parade.  Then it is off to Monserrat, a small island in the Caribbean that was populated by a large amount of Irish people before an erupting volcano decimated the population.  He follows the travels of Irish republicans who were exiled to Tasmania.  A few escaped and one became the governor of Montana so it is off to Butte.  Finally he goes into the wilderness to McCarthy Alaska to see a town named after the family.

The tone of the book reminds me a lot of Bill Bryson.  It is chatty with a lot of history thrown in but in bite sized pieces with the absurd facts pointed out.

In New York:

“Fitness is an overrated virtue in a law enforcement officer.  In their way these guys are much more menacing. They’re putting out a subliminal message: ‘Don’t run away.  We can’t chase you, so we’ll have to shoot.'”

On the joys of traveling:

“This is what tourists do all over the world.  You see a sign for something you’ve never heard of and probably wouldn’t cross the road to see at home, and, bang, you’re there.  And then people tell you about other things you ought to go and see.  Once you’re in a small obscure are that the rest of the world knows nothing about someone will say, ‘Our big attraction is Satan’s Drain.  You really should go.’  So you do.  And you develop an interest in geological features and sea levels and all sorts of other stuff you’ve never cared about before…”

On finally reaching the end of the road in McCarthy Alaska:

“There are few more comforting experiences for the traveler than to journey great distances through unfamiliar and threatening landscapes, anticipating an austere and possibly squalid destination, only to discover that catering and interior design are not in the hands of heterosexuals.”

This is a great introduction to Irish history and the influence that the Irish people have had around the world.

11 Jan, 2016

The Year of Living Danishly

/ posted in: Reading The Year of Living Danishly The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
on February 1st 2015
Pages: 304
Genres: Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Denmark

When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries.What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made? Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.

Goodreads

What is it about people doing things for a year and writing a book about it that draws me in every time?

Helen Russell is a Londoner with a job at a magazine who is also going through IVF treatment when her husband is offered a job with Lego.  That means moving to Denmark – in January.  This isn’t Copenhagen either.  This is rural Jutland.  They decide to go for one year with Helen giving up her job and starting to freelance.

When they get there the place seems deserted.  They find out that it is because of hygge.  Hygge is the Danish word for getting cozy in the winter with candles and dinner and friends and basically hibernating until spring.

When I was reading this part of the book, I looked over to my left and saw this.

 

She also found that working all hours of the day and night doesn’t show that you are invaluable to Danish employers. To them, not getting your work done during the allotted time in the day means that you aren’t good at being efficient.  Everyone stops work in the early afternoon to spend more time with family.  I had some questions about this section though.  She only talks about office workers.  What about service industries?  Does this hold true there too?  What about medical workers?  This read a bit like the articles I see all the time that tout everyone working from home or being a geographical nomad.  I’m always thinking, “I see patients for a living.  How exactly is that supposed to work then?”

Not everything is great in Denmark though.  While women are legally treated equally, there is still a way to go on getting equality in people’s attitudes towards them.  There is also a lot of violence in the culture.  Fights are common.  There are also a lot of unwritten rules that the community enforces which can be hard for someone coming in from the outside.

The school system is good though.  High taxes mean that there is a huge support structure.  For example, college is paid for and you get up to 2 years unemployment if you decide to change jobs.  There is maternity and paternity leave.

I have been thinking about going to Denmark in 2017 for a conference.

 
Hello, tax deductable airfare and hotels!

This book made me even more interested in going.

I got this book from Bex for the Nonfiction November swap.

19 Nov, 2015

Meet Me In Atlantis

/ posted in: Reading Meet Me In Atlantis Meet Me in Atlantis by Mark Adams
on March 10th 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: History, Travel
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set mostly in Europe

A few years ago, Mark Adams made a strange discovery: Far from alien conspiracy theories and other pop culture myths, everything we know about the legendary lost city of Atlantis comes from the work of one man, the Greek philosopher Plato. Stranger still: Adams learned there is an entire global sub-culture of amateur explorers who are still actively and obsessively searching for this sunken city, based entirely on Plato's detailed clues. What Adams didn't realize was that Atlantis is kind of like a virus--and he'd been exposed.

Goodreads

First line –

We had just met the previous week in Bonn, my new German acquaintance and I, and here we were on the west coast of Africa on a hot Thursday morning, looking for an underwater city in the middle of the desert.

Most people don’t realize that everything we know about Atlantis comes from Plato.  Basically, he tells a story about finding this information in some papers of his ancestor Solon.  Solon traveled all over.  On a trip to Egypt a priest tells him a story about a civilization that was destroyed by water 9000 years ago.  There are a lot of very specific descriptions of the size and set up of Atlantis.  People have been looking for it ever since.

But, is it a real story or an allegory?  If there is a kernel of truth to it, what part is true?  There are many ancient Mediterranean powers that were destroyed by natural disasters.  Any one of them could have been the basis of the story if you discount the 9000 years before Solon’s time part.

The idea that Atlantis was on an island in the middle of the Atlantic comes from an American named Ignatius Donnelly who I learned about in this book.

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the FreeIdiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce

(That’s a good book too.)

Most everyone else is looking in Spain, Morocco, or on islands around the western Mediterranean.

This book doesn’t give you any answers but it is an interesting look at what is known and what can be known about ancient civilizations. Some intriguing work is being down with under water exploration because many ancient cities are now in areas that are in the sea.

I now know more about Plato than I’d ever thought I would know. I skipped the chapter on his numerical theories though. It made my eyes hurt.

29 Oct, 2015

Where The Hell is Tuvalu?

/ posted in: Reading Where The Hell is Tuvalu? Where The Hell Is Tuvalu? by Philip Ells
on August 31st 2011
Pages: 288
Genres: Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Tuvalu

How does a young City lawyer end up as the People's Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world, 18,000 kilometres from home?
We've all thought about getting off the treadmill, turning life on its head and doing something worthwhile. Philip Ells dreamed of turquoise seas, sandy beaches and palm trees, and he found these in the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu. But neither his Voluntary Service Overseas briefing pack nor his legal training could prepare him for what happened there.
He learned to deal with rapes, murders, incest, the unforgivable crime of pig theft and to look a shark in the eye. But he never dared ask the octogenarian Tuvaluan chief why he sat immobilised by a massive rock permanently resting on his groin.Well, you wouldn't, would you?
This is the story of a UK lawyer colliding with a Pacific island culture. The fallout is moving, dramatic, bewildering and often hilarious.

Goodreads

Philip Ells was a lawyer in London and he was burnt out.  He decided to escape his high pressure job by volunteering with Voluntary Service Overseas.  He was sent to Tuvalu to be the People’s Lawyer.  That job is basically serving as a defense attorney for anyone who needs one.  There aren’t native lawyers available for people.  The prosecuting attorney was also an ex-pat.

This job came with some problems that he hadn’t expected.  In Tuvalu there just isn’t much crime.  It is also customary to go to the police and write out a full confession immediately if you commit a crime.  Everyone pleads guilty.  That makes life for your defense attorney much harder.  His main job was to try to get the sentences as short as possible for his clients by whatever means necessary.  This led to most of the island residents calling him “The People’s Liar.”  He filled out the rest of his time by writing threatening letters to government officials of behalf of citizens.  That can get awkward when you then meet the officials socially or over tennis.

He also inherited Laita, a secretary/translator/paralegal with his office.  She feels that the less he knows the better.  He can cause fewer problems that way.

This book is written about his two years of service in the 1990s.  That means that the community in Tuvalu had very limited access to the outside world.  There was no internet and mail may not come if there were extra passengers on the plane.

From Google Maps

This is the main island of Funafuti. The town is on the eastern side.

From Wikipedia

This is the whole island nation. The islands are spread far apart and there was a boat that tried to make a circuit of them about once a month.  Sometimes it brings back fruits and vegetables.  Most of the time it doesn’t which leads to ex pat fantasies of the joys of a potato.

The ex pats and the natives of Tuvalu never truly understand each other.  The author writes about this with self-deprecating wit.  He comes to appreciate the quietness of the island especially after being loaned out to Kiribati and working for seven weeks on many horrific crimes in that country in addition to a Constitutional crisis.

He may have even been able to do some good such as helping teach a three day seminar on the legal rights of women in an area where domestic violence is not taken seriously by the police.

This is an unusual memoir in that the epilogue tell what other people in the book are doing now but never updates what the author did after leaving Tuvalu.

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