Friday, 27 September 2013

Inferior Book Group #1:

Hello everybody, and welcome to the first meeting of the official Inferior Book Group!  I mentioned in my last post that I'd come up with a plan to encourage myself to finish more than one book every five months or so, which is my shameful current record, and this is it.  I love to read and am always surprised at how much I enjoy reading when I find the time, but unfortunately it's come low on my list of priorities over the last few years.  

The idea behind this new monthly series of blog posts is to set myself a deadline for finishing a book (one per month) so that I am forced to make time for reading.  Hopefully it will also spark some conversation here on Inferior Design, if any of you have read, are reading or choose to pick up one of my chosen reads and join me - just like a real book group!  Although I'll mostly be reading and writing about fictional novels, I will probably throw some non-fiction and biographies or autobiographies into the mix too, as I like to read a variety of books.  I have loads to get through, as I still buy books fairly regularly even when I have no time to read them!

This month's review is on Bill Bryson's European travel memoir, Neither Here nor There from 1991.  Embarrassingly, I started this book while we were in Paris back in April, and have only just finished it, but that's doesn't mean it's a long or boring read whatsoever!  Bill Bryson kind of feels like a long lost family member to me, as my Dad and sister (who are both dedicated and sickeningly fast readers) have read and re-read all of his work countless times, and relayed the best parts to me over and over again.

Although I've read extracts here and there in the past, and really enjoyed his autobiography (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid) this is the first time I've properly attacked Bill's intimidatingly large back catalogue.  Even then, Neither Here nor There is only number two in the travel memoir series, so I've still got a long way to go!  In my opinion, he is an extremely funny writer, and his subtle comedic style appeals greatly to my own sense of humour.  There are quite a few stand up comedians who can't even make me crack a smile, but Bill Bryson's static words, printed onto a piece of paper over a decade after they were thought up had me snorting horrifically with laughter to myself on the train.  His usually self deprecating jokes are simultaneously hilarious and endearing, and he'll happily recount his own cringeworthy actions and encounters in foreign countries purely for the reader's enjoyment.

Source: here

Neither Here nor There is Bryson's first person account of a lone trip across Europe, which mirrors a previous holiday he had taken fifteen years or so before with a high school friend.  He compares the two separate experiences throughout, often returning to a destination in search of a hotel or bar that he has fond memories of.  Spoiler: he rarely finds them again.  This is travel writing like you've never seen it before, with refreshing human honesty and humour injected into the usual reviews of museums and restaurants.

If you're not a travel aficionado, don't automatically assume that Neither Here nor There isn't for you.  It's perfect for everyone, and I'll tell you why.  Firstly, if you are not travelling, have no holidays planned and are feeling a bit miffed about it, the book is the perfect portal to escape through and feel like you are seeing the world.  You can accompany Bill through countless countries, and be secretly glad that you aren't really there when he can't find any open restaurants, or has all of his traveller's cheques stolen.  

Secondly, if you are travelling (like I was when I started reading) you may find comfort in the fact that even accomplished traveller, Bill Bryson, can feel just as lost and confused abroad as you do.  I found his observations on Parisians and Paris in general to be spot on, even twelve years before our trip, and reading about his bad experiences made it easier to laugh off my own awkward encounters with waiters and public transport staff.

Finally, if you've never had a thirst for travel, this book might just sway you towards giving it a go.  If you live in the UK, the rest of Europe is just on our doorstep, waiting to be explored.  So what are you waiting for?

This time next month, I will be reviewing my beloved Danny Wallace's first work of fiction, Charlotte Street.  Feel free to read along with me, and we can compare notes!

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