Why would you read a book about someone else’s travels? It’s like why would you read about a movie, when you watch it yourself. Well unfortunately, some of us can not afford to travel all of the time. And also many of us have not read Paul Theroux.
Go to any used bookstore and you will find a Paul Theroux book, for some reason. Maybe it’s because he’s a prolific writer. Or maybe people just don’t like his books, lol.
I finally bit into Theroux when Tony Wheeler wrote about it in his book about founding Lonely Planet. He says that The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux and A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby are the two seminal travel books. I tried reading Newby’s book and I got bored so I read Theroux.
Ever since he was a little boy he wanted to be on a train, Theroux himself wrote. So he did the ultimate trip. From London to Asia, up back through Japan and back to London via the Transiberian Express. The stunt in itself is impressive, but something about the way Theoroux writes that makes it even more.
Eventually he did the same thing again. Traversing from Boston all the way to the tip of Argentina.
He did other trips, like walking around Great Britain. Taking a trip around the Mediterranean. Trains through China. But for me, the most captivating one was The Happy Isles of Oceania where he took a kayak with him from island to island in the constellation that is the South Pacific. Most of us (including me) will probably never go to these areas which makes his trip even more compelling.
He also takes a trip north to south in Africa and eventually recreates his very first trip 33 years later.
One of the fun things about reading “all” of a guys major books is that you start becoming privy to all his inside jokes. One of the fun ones is Theroux’s attempt to get the word duffilled into a dictionary. It’s just one of the words he made up, but eventually he even tried to meet the guy he named the word after in another book.
Another is being able to “locate” all his special places. Like Candacraig in Maymyo, Burma or Skye or Cape Wrath in Scotland.
You also find out about other great books like “Christ Stopped at Eboli”.
You eventually find out about his personal life, and how hard it is. Considering who indeed would stay married to someone that is perpetually alone on a train. Also about his obsession with Nobel prize winners in Literature that he probably wants but will never get himself. Though it makes him more human, this desire.
And even in his last book, his reward of saying that if you’ve read his books, you are an omnivore of books, which is probably one of the nicest compliments a reader could say to another reader. 🙂