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.
Published: 2000
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.

For more about Bill Bryson, visit his personal Web site or read interviews with him at Powell’s and Salon.

—Michael Yessis is the co-editor of World Hum.

1 Comment for No. 10: “In A Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson

Steve 09.05.08 | 3:26 PM ET

A laugh-out loud moment there for me (regarding the socks comment).
When I had first heard about this book in the earlier part of the decade I was expecting it to contain the sort of cliches that make me shudder (I think Kangaroo Jack had just come out around the time).
Having recently listened to audiobook versions of A Short History of Nearly Everything and Notes from a Small Island I knew I was in safe hands with Bill Bryson.
It’s good to know that he encountered mostly positive experiences and takes an active an interest in the country, although I’m disappointed he only spent a single full day in Adelaide (where I live). He did sum up our position within Australia quite well though.

I felt that there could have been more insight into the character of Australia but this is only a travelogue after all and Bryson is only an occasional visitor. He has to make up for a lack of personal experience with research, but overall it’s a good read/listen (this is the only one of his books he’s narrated to my knowledge).

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.