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
Paul Theroux's first collection of essays and articles devoted entirely to travel writing, FRESH AIR FIEND touches down on five continents and floats through most seas in between to deliver a literary adventure of the first order, with the incomparable Paul Theroux as a guide. From the crisp quiet of a solitary week spent in the snowbound Maine woods to the expectant chaos of Hong Kong on the eve of the Hand-over, Theroux demonstrates how the traveling life and the writing life are intimately connected. His journeys in remote hinterlands and crowded foreign capitals provide the necessary perspective to "become a stranger" in order to discover the self. A companion volume to SUNRISE WITH SEAMONSTERS, FRESH AIR FIEND is the ultimate good read for anyone fascinated by travel in the wider world or curious about the life of one of our most passionate travelers.
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