In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned CountryIn a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still one of my all-time favorite books, period.
I first read In a Sunburned Country ten years ago, and loved it (and folded over page corners like folding was a new skill that was going out of style).
On rereading, which was actually a listen to the audio version read by the author, I still found this love-story to a country to be very, very funny, as well as enchanting, thought-provoking, melancholy, and wise.
What I love about Bryson’s voice is how he’s able to make you laugh really hard-truly-this book should come with a warning label for those who dare to read it in public: “This book WILL cause sudden and unexpected outbursts of laughter which may appear especially unusual if you are in the middle of jogging on a treadmill with a serious expression on your face.”
But also, underneath the humor, Bryson speaks with wonder and curiosity about the world around him. He notices the gigantic lobster sculpture, as well as the Sydney Opera House, he notes the absurdity that frequently accompanies our adventures, historical, and present.
Bryson seems, at heart, to deeply like the world around him, and the people in it. I highly recommend In a Sunburned Country to anyone interested in Australia, travel, or learning something new. Perhaps even more importantly, I’d rank this in my top ten list of books to read when you’re feeling sad. It will brighten your day.

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England as You Like It by Susan Allen Toth

England as You Like ItEngland as You Like It by Susan Allen Toth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I stumbled upon England as You Like It by Susan Allen Toth at my local library, a battered, slightly outdated (1996) gem of a travel book that has inspired and delighted me.
Toth is a writer who celebrates her life-long love affair with England, and in this book (one of several on that subject) she gives practical advice about how she plans her trips, as well as including brief, informative chapters on some of her favorite discoveries along the way.
Toth subscribes to a “thumbprint” idea of travel, which entails staying in one place, often at a self-catering cottage, for at least a week at a time, and then exploring the nearby countryside by car and on foot.
Her book, although sometimes outdated in its references and research methods, is a treasure trove of information. Although Toth recommends researching accommodation through the mail, or by telephone, where present day travelers would often turn first to the internet, her concept of travel, as well as her suggestions for places to visit, are still invaluable.
The most important nuggets I took away from England as You Like It are these:
1. Something doesn’t have to be famous, the “best” (whatever that means), or flashy, to be special. Therefore, when planning a trip, don’t worry about hitting all the “don’t miss” sites in the area. Doing this will only make you feel rushed and crazy. Instead, pick a place that calls to you, stay there for a week, and make it your temporary home. When you stop looking for perfection, you may notice treasures you would otherwise have missed.
2. Maps are your friend. (Ordnance surveys are great, and since I happen to love looking at maps anyway, I plan to order some online and peruse them before my next trip.) Detailed/different types of maps can be helpful especially when you are traveling in the countryside, where paths or roads may be poorly marked. My recent trip to England put paid to this theory, when a taxi driver familiar with Wells was unable to find a bed and breakfast a few miles outside of town, even when we gave him the address.
3. Gardens are great. I want to make sure to include plenty of wandering in gardens in my next trip.
4. After reading England as You Like It, I have added East Sussex (home of the real hundred-acre wood of Winnie the Pooh fame), and West Dorset (where, I was happy to learn, the amazing show Broadchurch was filmed) to my travel wish list. Now I just have to decide between those and the coast of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly, Devon, and Northumberland!
5. England as You Like It re-inspired me to write down my own travel experiences. I very much enjoyed reading Toth’s memories, even as she recounted seemingly ordinary events like walking through a wood full of bluebells, or visiting a swannery.
As noted above, Toth has written many other books, including My Love Affair With England. Her books are the kind that I like to read in short bursts, with a pen in hand so I can make notes about places that she mentions which I find especially intriguing. I’d recommend England as You Like It to anyone, really, whether you are an Anglophile, or love travel, or simply feel like learning something new.

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