Thursday, July 5, 2007

Down Under

I recently decided on a whim to read Bill Bryson's book In a Sunburned Country and I wasn't disappointed. I have read a handful of his other books including A Walk in the Woods, The Lost Continent, and Notes From a Small Island. Bryson has such a unique way of writing about a place. His books include general travel commentary, loads of fascinating history, lots of it fairly obscure, and his humorous insights. I don't know much about Australia and Bryson gives a wonderful overview. He visits and describes the major cities and sites, as well as more off the beaten track places. He writes that so much of Australia is still undiscovered, about species once thought extinct being spotted and written about, never to be seen again. Bryson's tale is of a mysterious, fascinating, and friendly place, one that he enjoys immensely.

Some particular statistics I found fascinating are those having to do with population density. Keep in mind, these numbers are from 2000 but you'll get the idea.

Britain 632 (people per square mile)
United States 76
Across the entire world 117
Australia 6

Amazing, no?

Bryson tells the good and the bad. Government polices that turned out not to be such great ideas. Specific details on how the country became what it is today. My copy contains a new appendix on the 2000 Olympics. Bryson states "it seems entirely possible that Sydney will stand as a pinnacle for the Modern Olympics - a time when the largest number of people enjoyed the biggest Games in the most cheerful circumstances possible."

I particularly enjoyed a part when Bryson visits a museum devoted to the story of the Batavia shipwreck, something I've recently learned about from reading The Accomplice by Kathryn Heyman. I absolutely love when something or someone I've read about in one books turns up in another book.

My only 'complaint' if it is one, is that I wished Bryson had written more about the Aboriginal population. He makes mention of them several times, but never delves more deeply.

I highly recommend this book and Bryson's other books I mentioned above. If I should ever have the good fortune to visit Australia I'll be certain to reread this.

I'm currently reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for my July book club and have begun Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. A stack of books arrived for me recently from the library. I tend to look through what they have ordered and put myself on the list for whatever looks interesting. I tried a couple of them, but they were no match for Atwood's talents and they will be returned unread. I am also planning on making room in my reading schedule for a certain book being published later this month.


Lesley said...

Hey, I'm right in the middle of this one myself - and loving it, which is not a huge surprise, considering it's by Bryson. I was also astounded by those news coverage statistics he quotes early on.

Bybee said...

I liked what he said about Australians...that they're relaxed like Americans, but do things properly like the British...I can't remember the following example, but it made me want to move there. And your review makes me want to read Bryson's book over again!

BooksPlease said...

I've read a few of Bryson's books -loved them. When I visited the Roman Baths in Bath I found that it's Bill Bryson on the audioguide - fantastic.

I hope you enjoy "The Blind Assassin" as much as I did. Kingsolver is also a favourite and I'm looking forward to reading "Animal Vegetable Miracle".

nutmeg said...

Aussies are great (but I think I'm biased). We do like our relaxed order. The people/sqm statistic does look incredible - most people live within a couple hundred kilometres (miles?) from the coast as the inland is very barren. And the Olympics here was good - I got to see some hockey and gymnastics live. It's starnge to think I may never go to another Olympics.

Strangely enough, this Bryson would have to be one of the few of his that I haven't read - though my husband has read it. I think it is because I would be really disappointed to read it and think one of my favourite authors has got it "all wrong". Well, I suppose there is only one way to find out...

As to the Aboriginal content - what is it that you are interested in i.e., first contact, current issues etc etc as I could put a list together of some books that deal with these topics.

Tara said...

Lesley, Yes I was also shocked by those new statistics, thanks for mentioning it. It was funny, there actually was a story on about Australia while I was reading this - and I can't recall what it was about.

Bybee, he makes me want to move there as well. I love that he mentions over and over in the book, 'I love this country.' Reading it has made me want to revsisit his other books.

Booksplease, that is fantastic - about the audioguide! We were there (in Bath) in early 2001 and I'm pretty sure we did not do the audioguide.

I am enjoying the Blind Assassin - actually I read a few years ago and have counted it among my favorite books. It is a different experience this time, already 'knowing' what is to come.

Nutmeg, you should give it a try sometime, Bryson states over and over in the book that he 'loves this country' - it really comes through in the writing.

In regards to the Aboriginal content, I think I am most curious about more current issues - where they live, are they employed or go to school, what role the government plays in their life, the relationships between them and the rest of the population. I appreciate you being able to suggest additional reading. Thank you!

Tammy said...

Hi...I'm new to your blog, but I enjoy book reviews...I wrote my first ever "book review" today...come on over is you wish!

Kelly said...

I loved Blind Assassin! It takes awhile to get into it but it is really worth it!

Elaine said...

I first discovered Billy Bryson when I read Notes from a Small Island, all about his sojourn in the UK. On the back of this book it said 'do not read in public'. Well, I did and could then understand why as I spent most of the time in mild hysterics and giggling. At one stage I managed to reduce the entire carriage of my train to laughter as they all got the giggles from watching me! I think he marries humour with fact beautifully

Tara said...

T*mmy, thanks so much for stopping by.

Myutopia, I agree! This is my second time reading it and I just love the ride.

Elaine, there are so many times I laughed aloud while reading this book! I just find him completely entertaining. I love what you've said and agree completely - "I think he marries humour with fact beautifully."

Lotus Reads said...

I absolutely LOVED this book! I learned so much about Australia, but sadly I don't remember the details now. It will definitely be one of the first books I read if I ever plan a trip Down Under.

I'd love to see Bryson take on more places...I'd love to suggest he writes on India, my home country, for I'd love to see it through his eyes.

Tara said...

Lotus, I too was wondering where Bryson would write about next. I agree that India would be a wonderful location. I wonder if he would ever write about Canada (I don't think he has?)-sort of a so close, yet so far away kind of place.