Round Ireland with a Fridge

by Tony Hawks
First sentence: “I’m not, by nature, a betting man.”
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Content: It’s sweary, both in English and Iris, and there’s a ton of drinking. It’d be in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore if we had it.

A while back, I happened to be watching vlogbrothers, and John recommended this one, and I thought to myself “That is the sort of book I need to get me through some dull winter days.”

I was right.

The basic premise is this: Tony got super drunk one night and his friend bet him 100 pounds that Tony couldn’t hitchhike the circumference of Ireland carrying a fridge. (There are Reasons this got bet, but that’s really unimportant.) Tony, for whatever reason that I can’t remember now, decided that it was a good bet to try and accomplish. So, he set out to Ireland, picked himself up a small, white, minifridge and a dolly, and started hitchhiking.

The boon came from when someone (again, I’m not sure who) got him in contact with the Gerry Ryan Show, which was broadcast throughout Ireland on the radio. They were all so mystified by why Tony would do this, so Gerry decided to put out calls to help Tony out. I’m pretty sure without that support, this would have been an entirely different book.

As it is, it’s a delightful (if often stupid) read about a delightful (if often stupid) trip. Tony met lots and lots of people, had a good sense of humor about it all, and in the end realized that humanity (at least humanity 22 years ago) isn’t all that bad. It’s a ridiculous book about a ridiculous endeavor.

Which is to say: I really enjoyed it. Tony had me laughing out loud at parts, and it’s a truly delightful book to tell people about (“No seriously: the fridge went surfing!”). It does have a nice travel element to it, though it’s less about the landscape of Ireland and more about the people Tony meets. At any rate, it was a delightful romp to the Emerald Isle in the middle of a cold winter.

Audio Book: North Korea Journal

by Michael Palin
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s a journal travelogue, so it’s probably only interesting to people who like Palin or are interested in North Korea. It’s in the Current Events section at the bookstore.

I haven’t seen the BBC special this journal is based on, but I don’t think it’s really necessary. Palin is an incredible diarist, and this is based on his experience gaining access to North Korea to film a travelogue and then his experiences during the two weeks he was in North Korea.

It’s a fascinating story: I don’t know much about the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is its official name) besides what we hear through the media, which (to be honest) isn’t much. Palin didn’t get a whole lot of access to the “common” people and when he tried to strike up political conversations, he was immediately shut down. What he did wasn’t often edited, but sometimes — like in the instance when he wanted to be filmed sending an anti-American postcard to Terry Gilliam — they preempted things from happening. The “minders”, as Palin called them, wanted to show North Korea at its best, so he wasn’t really allowed free access to the country. There’s an interesting postscript on the book written by one of the directors (I think; I can’t quite remember now) about the negotiating that needed to happen before they could even start filming, and how it was difficult to get across that they wanted to see “everyday” life, not just the Best of the Best.

It’s a fascinating book (and a short one!) and Palin’s delightful to listen to.

Highly recommended. (Now, to go see if I can find the show somewhere.)

A Walk in the Woods

by Bill Bryson
First sentence: “Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town.”
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Content: There’s a lot of swearing including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Creative Non Fiction section of the bookstore.

I read this, I think, when it first came out. Or soon thereafter. I don’t remember. I do remember liking it, quite a bit. But, something prompted me to pull it off the shelf and give it a re-read. Just to see if it held up.

In 1996, soon after Bryson moved back to the US from the UK (for a bit; he’s moved back across the pond again), he stumbled upon the Appalachian Trail, and decided (kind of on a whim) that what he really needed to do was hike the length of it. His high school friend, Stephen Katz, volunteered to go with him, and with some preparation (of sorts), they were off. It’s very much a “we’re out of our depth” book — neither Katz nor Bryson are experienced hikers, and the AT isn’t just a stroll in the woods. But, Bryson makes it thoroughly entertaining. Interspersed with the history of the AT as well as general observations (some are obviously outdated) about the state of nature in America, this one is definitely quintessential Bill Bryson. (In fact, if you’ve not read his books, this is a good place to start.)

Which means: it’s thoughtful, entertaining, funny, and interesting. And I’m happy to say that it’s held up these past 20 years and is as good as I remembered.