No. 10: “In A Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson
Travel Blog • Michael Yessis • 05.23.06 | 1:38 AM ET
To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Territory covered: Australia
Bill Bryson, like many of the best travel writers, fuels his books with a keen eye for detail and an historian’s ability to research. In In a Sunburned Country, for instance, he cites a whopping 66 books in his bibliography. But what sets Bryson apart is his ability to process everything he’s learned and experienced with the voice of a seasoned comedian. “Sunburned” is laugh-out-loud funny. “This is a country that…is so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world’s first non-governmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years would pass before anyone noticed,” he writes. “Clearly this is a place worth getting to know.” Bryson travels from Sydney to Perth and throughout the continent’s Martian-like desert middle, and his affection for Australia’s people and its varied landscapes is obvious. In fact, it’s infectious. If an armchair trip through Australia in the company of Bryson doesn’t make you want to go there, it’s doubtful any book will.
Excerpt from In a Sunburned Country:
Let me say right here that I love Australia—adore it immeasurably—and am smitten anew each time I see it. One of the effects of paying so little attention to Australia is that it is always such a pleasant surprise to find it there. Every cultural instinct and previous experience tells you that when you travel this far you should find, at the very least, people on camels. There should be unrecognizable lettering on the signs, and swarthy men in robes drinking coffee from thimble-sized cups and puffing on hookahs, and rattletrap buses and potholes in the road and a real possibility of disease on everything you touch—but no, it’s not like that at all. This is comfortable and clean and familiar. Apart from a tendency among men of a certain age to wear knee-high socks with shorts, these people are just like you and me. This is wonderful. This is exhilarating. This is why I love to come to Australia.
—Michael Yessis is the co-editor of World Hum.