September 6, 2001

A Sun-kissed Journey

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There are two types of people in this world: vacation planners and vacationers. Vacation planners are those people who relish the planning stages of a vacation. These people are responsible and enjoy research; they litter the pages of Frommer’s Guide to “Far Off Place” with small yellow post-its reminders months before the actual travel occurs. Vacationers, on the other hand, are perfectly happy with being told what to do and where to deposit the money by the vacation planner. In general, they do not like research and do not read travel books. At long last, however, a travel guide has been written to please vacation planner and the vacationer alike: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson.

Despite appealing to both types of people, this book is far different from the Australian installation in the trendy line of Idiot’s Guide books. There are no colorful expansive pictures of the outback or such famous Sydney Harbor sights as the Sydney Opera House and the Harbor bridge, no detailed street maps of the largest cities, no restaurant guide, no linear breakdown of the must-see sights of this country. What Bryson does include, however, is far more useful to both the actual and the hopeful Australian traveler.

While reading this book, it seems as though Bryson is an old friend sitting in a kitchen with a cup of tea, re-counting the tales of hilarity and horror born from a lengthy vacation in a far off place. Early in the book, Bryson says, “You see, Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I’m saying.” He then continues with personal thoughts, hilarious historical anecdotes, and impressive factoids skillfully woven together in a conversational writing style. The book is not only a quick and easy read but also an enjoyable experience.

And yet, the question that remains is this: can an enjoyable read still be educational? The answer is yes, at least when regarding Bill Bryson. With a true talent for witty writing, Bryson manages to give the reader a great education on Australia without the reader’s conscious knowledge of being taught. Bryson covers everything in this book, from history lessons to social commentary to tourist sites, and accomplishes this rather daunting task flawlessly using the power of the personal anecdote.

Bryson is delightfully opinionated, and not afraid of voicing his views on typical stereotypes that a tourist will come across when traveling extensively in another country. For instance, Canberra is said to be rather dull, and Bryson assures his audience that it is. Residents of Queensland are said to be crazy, and Bryson’s encounters with two old women in this area convince him that this is true as well. Also, Bryson does not mince words about the harsh climate of the country: he gleefully recounts tales of deadly spider bites, jellyfish stings that deliver unimaginable pain, lightening-quick crocodile attacks, and misbegotten ventures into the outback.

In spite of these dangers, or perhaps even because of them, Bryson makes it completely obvious that Australia is a fabulous place. Like most travel guides, In a Sunburned Country gives the reader a strong desire to visit Australia, but unlike the traditional travel book, Bryson describes his adventures in way that make the audience long to hop a plane to encounter the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the cities along with the harsh climes of outback border towns.

Alternately, you don’t have to be planning a holiday in the Land Down Under to enjoy Bryson’s adventures. In all honesty, the book is wonderful for anyone, even those who never thought of visiting Australia. As a warning, though, those who do find themselves traveling the roads of Australia vicariously through Bryson will definitely make it a life goal to live through the experience themselves.

You see, Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country is an interesting book. It truly is. And that really is all I’m saying.

Archived article by Katie Porch