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Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings Paperback – May 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Paul Theroux may be pompous, self-important, cynical, and grumpy. He may even be, as accused by a heckler in Australia, "a wanker." So what? The man is prolific--having penned 36 books--and when he's inspired, his insights and sparkling writing are so startling that it's easy to forgive him for his occasional crankiness. Besides, as he reminds readers frequently, he is a man who takes pen to paper for a living; as the title essay points out: "Normal, happy, well-balanced individuals seldom become imaginative writers...."

In Fresh Air Fiend, Theroux's pen serves him well with astute, lively pieces that stray far beyond simple "travel essays" and reveal his self-inflicted lifestyle of compulsive travel, writing, and alienation. In this collection--containing mostly previously published magazine pieces written over the past 15 years--there's a strong autobiographical streak, as well as historical perspectives and a sardonic view on aging. "One of the more bewildering aspects of growing older," he writes in "'Memory and Creation,'" "is that people constantly remind you of things that never happened."

Now nearly 60, Theroux has lived a rich, varied life: the book jumps from post-Mao China and years spent as an Africa-based Peace Corps volunteer in the '60s to turtle watching in Hawaii and kayaking on Cape Cod; the jumbled collection even includes pieces on other travel writers (Bruce Chatwin, Graham Greene, and William Least Heat-Moon) and the film adaptation of his novel The Mosquito Coast. A chronic sense of aloneness permeates all these pieces--be it the lost traveler paddling through fog, the lone writer living without a phone, or the hermetic trekker who can't speak the native language. Most touching: a short sketch of a road trip when he's lost, his wife is anxious, and the children are fighting; Theroux doesn't want the moment to end and soon enough he returns to his self-imposed alienation. It's that perpetual sense of loneliness and not fitting in that seems to motivate Theroux in many of these essays. Theroux may be getting older, even nostalgic, but as these vibrant essays show, he sure isn't getting stale. --Melissa Rossi --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the 15 years since his first collection, Sunrise with Seamonsters, novelist and travel writer Theroux has gotten around. He's sailed the Yangtze River in China, crossed the U.S. in the comfort of a private rail car and camped during an ice storm in Maine. This collection gathers more than three dozen essays about these adventures and others, along with some book reviews. There is wide variety here, but Theroux's excellent observations of factory life in China rest uncomfortably on the same pages as his pride in exploring such places as Uganda, Honduras and Sicily before the "deluge" of other visitors (especially the "supine" tourists) swept in. Beyond the fun of learning about different parasites and reveling in his home turf around Cape Cod, these essays reveal much about the author himself. A solitary experience that requires self-imposed exile, optimism and a fair amount of "self-delusion," travel is also, as Theroux notes, "almost entirely an inner experience." At its best, travel writing lends insight into the human experience; at its worst, it settles for lighthearted navel-gazing. This collection encompasses both ends of the spectrum--from Theroux's revelation that "travel always involves a degree of trespass" to his whimsical declaration that he reached the peak of "fresh air fiendishness" on a hot, moonlit night on the Filipino island of Palawan: "Fulfilled, content, naked, alone, happy. I thought: I am a monkey." Author tour. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618126937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618126934
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #847,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The title of "Fresh Air Fiend" is a little misleading, as this is a collection of more than just Theroux's travel writings. There are a number of essays on other topics, including some reviews of other writers; I especially enjoyed his enthusiatic review of McPhee's "Looking For a Ship", itself a personal favorite of mine. For so prolific an author Theroux's writing is always of the highest caliber; there are no wasted words in a Theroux novel or travelogue, and yet no important detail goes unrecorded or described. Given this you can see where his enthusiasm for McPhee comes from; his admiration is obvious and freely given.
The discussions of Theroux's own novels, and how he came to write them, are also particularly enjoyable and illuminating. The story of "Mosquito Coast" covers not only the writing of the book, but the production of the movie as well, and Theroux's description of how it brought out the "Allie" in all involved- Producer, director, actors- is both witty and revealing. The story behind "Milroy the Magician" will prove interesting to anyone who has read "The Happy Isles of Oceania".
The travel stories, which do make up the bulk of the book, will be familiar in scope and tone to anyone who has read Theroux. Here he is, driving through remote Africa, wandering about in Singapore or kayaking alone around Christmas Island amid the wildlife.
Reviews of Theroux's travel writing often center on what a misanthrope he must be, or on the accuracy of details and minutia contained in the books. But Theroux himself points out in an essay on his late friend Bruce Chatwin that his books are not meant to be a guide to a country, a people or even a city; they are about the trip itself- his trip, not yours or anyone else's trip. In that sense, even his worst critics must admit that he succeeds marvelously well.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a once world traveler I was empowered by Mr. Theroux' writings. They encompassed not only the beauty, confusion and enlightenment of travel, but also the baffling loneliness and inevitable ethnocentrism. I found myself nodding in agreement, and moved that someone else had spoken truths about me of which I was not aware. It is not only the journey of a body, but the journey of a man through his life. This is a must read for anyone wondering about the world outside and the world within.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Rick Hawkins on February 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Paul Theroux is highly prolific, highly opinionated, a bit of an intellectual snob and a very good writer. He has produced a large body of fiction as well as many travel books like "Riding the Iron Rooster" (across China by train), "The Pillars of Hercules" (recounting his peregrinations around the Mediterranean) and "The Happy Islands of Oceania" (where he briefly gets stuck into Australians). Theroux is like a more choleric and worldlier Bill Bryson except that he is a writer of greater depth who was probably appalled by Bryson's effusive and almost fulsome praise of Australia in "Down Under". The latter writer wears his heart on his sleeve and his humour is more penetrable whereas Theroux is also capable of great wit and biting humour (this is especially evinced in a story from his collection "My Other Life", where he recounts his meeting (the reader isn't sure if it is a completely fictional account) with a serene Her Majesty and an extremely irascible Duke of Edinburgh). While there is humour in "Fresh-Air Fiend" there is no laugh-out-loud stuff like the piece just mentioned or like most of Bryson's tales. Sometimes you can get irritated by Theroux's somewhat supercilious superiority but there is no denying the quality of his writing. Theroux has none of the couch-potato tendencies of Bryson and would probably scoff at Bryson's Appalachian epiphanies in "A Walk in the Woods" - he is well aware of the dangers of solipsism in a solitary travelling writer, as he says in a piece about camping in the Maine woods: " reader ought to be subjected to a pompous discussion of the wilderness experience and the Meaning of Life.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Ryan on October 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have not previously read Paul Theroux so I cannot compare "Fresh-Air Fiend" against the margin of his prolific output. But as someone who travels extensively for a living and for pleasure, I can tell you that Theroux certainly gives new meaning to the world "travel writer".
With ascerbic wit he provides a wake-up call to those whose travel rarely goes beyond the tour bus window. He gives rich detail to his writing -- describing not only the place but the skies, the earth, the flora, the people, the smells. Travel is not always about destination but the journey to get there and Theroux is a master at bringing us to the very place he happens to be. His mix of political and historical commentary also pauses the reader to think of places beyond their obvious pleasures,colors and travel brochure facts.
He has a rare and candid ability to introduce the reader not only to the people living at the source but also those traveling to the source. We find humor in his descriptions and yet wonder if we could be laughing at our very selves. Through his eyes we become better travelers and from his voice we give second thought to the impact we hope to make as we travel throughout the world.
His travels in Africa are breathlessly exciting; his early thoughts from visiting China are eeirly accurate; his adventures in kayaks will have us all paddling in strange waters and seeing the world, perhaps for the first time.
His stories of his stories are fascinating and we applaud him for introducing us to his favorite writers and works of travel. He leaves us with much to think about and volumes of other's work to absorb. This is a wonderful guide book for anyone who likes to travel, hopes to travel or simply enjoys colorful, well-written, thoughful detail on places and people near and far.
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