A delectable collection of Theroux's recent writing on great places, people, and prose
In the spirit of his much-loved Sunrise with Seamonsters and Fresh Air Fiend, Paul Theroux's latest collection of essays leads the listener through a dazzling array of sights, characters, and experiences, as Theroux applies his signature searching curiosity to a life lived as much in reading as on the road. This writerly tour-de-force features a satisfyingly varied selection of topics that showcase Theroux's sheer versatility as a writer. Travel essays take us to Ecuador, Zimbabwe, and Hawaii, to name a few. Gems of literary criticism reveal fascinating depth in the work of Henry David Thoreau, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, and Hunter Thompson. And in a series of breathtakingly personal profiles, we take a helicopter ride with Elizabeth Taylor, go surfing with Oliver Sacks, eavesdrop on the day-to-day life of a Manhattan dominatrix, and explore New York with Robin Williams.
An extended mediation on the craft of writing binds together this wide-ranging collection, along with Theroux's constant quest for the authentic in a person or in a place.
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A Rich and Varied Anthology
This collection of essays spans and connects an ambitious array of subjects: travel, biography, the craft of writing, and considerable introspection. Theroux’s portrait of Elizabeth Taylor is frank and uncritical of her weirdness; of his friend Hunter S. Thompson, sympathetic. There is Joseph Conrad, and Henry Thoreau. The author’s obvious admiration for Oliver Sacks—who obviously deserved it—goes on forever, and when it reappears repeatedly in the subsequent revealing chapter on Robin Williams, becomes too much. He criticizes Bono and other stars who drum up support for aid to Africa as "mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth."
But Theroux can be a pugnacious character, sometimes even appearing in his travel novels such as “The Old Patagonian Express” to be having a miserable time. His criticisms are not without basis, and well-argued.
As a frequent traveler, I especially enjoyed the thoughtful chapter 13, “Talismans for Our Dreams.” It’s about collecting things, which he asserts is not the same as shopping, but has a greater affinity with hunting. “Collectors are not merely possessors,” he says. “They are themselves possessed by the search, and at last by the objects of their affection.”
Above all, this varied collection is a reminder that Theroux - like any writer of repute - has spent a lifetime as a voracious, insatiable reader. He advises that we not read the book, but rather the author; everything he or she has written. This is a perfect work to dip in and out of over time. Its nearly 17 hours provide endless variety to enjoy when you’re in the mood for a literate and provocative essay.
Edoardo Ballerini somehow manages to become Theroux. If I met Theroux and he opened his mouth to speak, I would expect to hear the voice of Ballerini.
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The many short stories are fascinating to listen too. In many cases, one gets the background behind many of the authors numerous travel books. Including a fascinating, honest critique of his own work, plus many additional stories. Narration was ok. I will listen to this again.