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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 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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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 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.

30 review for Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diane in Australia

    "Who are the great travelers? They are curious, contented, self-sufficient people who are not afraid of the past. They are not hiding in travel; they are seeking. Recently I was on the northern Queensland coast of Australia, in an aboriginal reserve. In the most unlikely spot I encountered a beachcomber who had been living there for several years. He was looking for plastic floats and bottles, building a raft that would take him around the top of Cape York in one of the most dangerous channels i "Who are the great travelers? They are curious, contented, self-sufficient people who are not afraid of the past. They are not hiding in travel; they are seeking. Recently I was on the northern Queensland coast of Australia, in an aboriginal reserve. In the most unlikely spot I encountered a beachcomber who had been living there for several years. He was looking for plastic floats and bottles, building a raft that would take him around the top of Cape York in one of the most dangerous channels in the world, the Torres Strait. I asked him if he knew the risks. "I'm not bothered," he said. "You can go anywhere, you can do anything, if you're not in a hurry." That is one of the sanest statements I have ever heard in my life." 4 Stars = It gave me much food for thought. And, just for the heck of it, 'cause I love this pic of Paul Theroux! ... lol (Paul Theroux by Nancy Ellison - London 1987)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    From this book and 'Sir Vidia's Shadow,' which I also recently finished, I can say that I very much trust Theroux as a reliable guide and observer, an insightful writer about people and place. I've read little of his fiction so far (only a few stories here and there, never a novel) but I liked this collection of travel writings a good deal. The book is divided into thematic sections, which really helps as there are numerous essays here, all written between 1985 and 2000. Early on Theroux makes a From this book and 'Sir Vidia's Shadow,' which I also recently finished, I can say that I very much trust Theroux as a reliable guide and observer, an insightful writer about people and place. I've read little of his fiction so far (only a few stories here and there, never a novel) but I liked this collection of travel writings a good deal. The book is divided into thematic sections, which really helps as there are numerous essays here, all written between 1985 and 2000. Early on Theroux makes a case for travel writing and the kind of writing one should aspire to: "An unlikely source, Nabokov's novel, 'Laughter in the Dark,' contains a passage that amply illustrates a justification for Chatwin's sort of travel writing. One of the characters says: "A writer for instance talks about India which I have seen and gushes about dancing girls, tiger hunts, fakirs, betel nuts, serpents: the Glamour of the Mysterious East. But what does it amount to? Nothing. Instead of visualizing India I merely get a bad toothache from all these Eastern delights. Now, there's the other way, as for instance, the fellow who writes: "Before turning in I put out my wet boots to dry and in the morning I found that a thick blue forest had grown on them ("Funghi, Madam," he explained)...' and at once India becomes alive for me. The rest is shop." [49-50]. Theroux continues: "In seven long travel books and an assortment of shorter ones, I have been, figuratively speaking, putting my wet boots out to dry and describing what the morning brings. I've taken people as I've found them." [50] And now for your amusement, an excerpt from Theroux's essay, "Unspeakable Rituals," in the very last section of this collection: The Mouse Missions of the Plashwits "Among the Plashwits, a pastoral people in central Asian Turkestan, the ability to carry a live mouse in one's mouth for a great distance without harming the creature is regarded as an essential skill, acquired in the passage from boy to man. "A Plashwit boy becomes a warrior by feeding flesh from his own body to the mouse, and once the mouse is fattened in a way that impresses the commander of the Plashwit army, it is eaten. "The male organ in Plashwit is also known as a mouse. Plashwit women are forbidden to look at a mouse or even utter the word." [444-45] Not all of the book is this exotic of course, and in fact this essay is unlike any of the others, being composed only of these curious rituals from around the world. No matter the subject, Theroux is consistently engaging and insightful.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jo Deurbrouck

    Sigh. Halfway through, I may need a Theroux break. Vinegar is not the only seasoning that makes food taste good. The man is an exquisite wordsmith and a sharp-eyed observer, but one of the things that means is that his lack of compassion, lack of empathy and big doses of judgmental superiority sparkle like diamonds throughout the essays. I want to yell every so often, "YES! We are not as cool as you! If we concede that point, apparently so important to you, can you mellow out and tell us a good Sigh. Halfway through, I may need a Theroux break. Vinegar is not the only seasoning that makes food taste good. The man is an exquisite wordsmith and a sharp-eyed observer, but one of the things that means is that his lack of compassion, lack of empathy and big doses of judgmental superiority sparkle like diamonds throughout the essays. I want to yell every so often, "YES! We are not as cool as you! If we concede that point, apparently so important to you, can you mellow out and tell us a good story?" I'm also a bit peeved with his repeated assertions that solitary travel is the only kind of travel that really means anything, when clearly he has guides and companions to get him to and through some of these difficult destinations, like, say, Africa. I travel too, so I know that getting there IS the journey, and if you've hired a guide and then you pretend you're on your own, you're dishonest at an essential level. He describes companions who can translate for him and answer his questions, but then it is always Paul pitching a tent alone. Do they exit stage left or what?

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Paul Theroux describes in this book the King of the Lozis at a bend in the Zambezi river or crossing the United States while traveling by train, relating his unforgettable experiences

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Few books oscillate this wildly from the profound to the profoundly boring. Paul Theroux, I don't care about each and every one of your kayaking misadventures or the toast you made off Nantucket over a camp fire. I do like some of your other essays though.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Paul Theroux says normal people don’t become writers. It is just not healthy to sit in a room for hours staring intently into your own mind. He counter-balances this basically inward condition by paddling thousand of miles in a kayak. In Fresh Air Fiend he explains why and how this type of therapy has become an intrinsic part of his life. This pot- pourri of his experiences and reflections, is more about Paul the human being rather than Paul the observer, than any his other books. He explains wh Paul Theroux says normal people don’t become writers. It is just not healthy to sit in a room for hours staring intently into your own mind. He counter-balances this basically inward condition by paddling thousand of miles in a kayak. In Fresh Air Fiend he explains why and how this type of therapy has become an intrinsic part of his life. This pot- pourri of his experiences and reflections, is more about Paul the human being rather than Paul the observer, than any his other books. He explains why he wrote the books he has, and why he took the trips that inspired them. He never intended to be a travel writer. Like Mark Twain, another great travel writer who needed to make a living as a writer, he did it out of necessity. The fact that he has always been an outsider—just the unhealthy prospective you need to succeed in his line of work—helped him become one of our best contemporary commentators. Linda Ballou-adventure travel writer and author of Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler's Tales and Lost Angel in ParadiseLost Angel Walkabout: One Traveler's Tales

  7. 5 out of 5

    Will Ansbacher

    This is a book I wish I had read earlier because it may be as close as we get to an autobiography, and I have always wanted to understand what drives his writing. I love Paul Theroux’s travel writing, and I’ve never understood why people consider him such a cranky grump; rather there’s an abundance of affection for people he meets. In this collection of travels, essays, personal history and much else, what is remarkable is his forbearance under duress (even if it’s all self-imposed). It is such a This is a book I wish I had read earlier because it may be as close as we get to an autobiography, and I have always wanted to understand what drives his writing. I love Paul Theroux’s travel writing, and I’ve never understood why people consider him such a cranky grump; rather there’s an abundance of affection for people he meets. In this collection of travels, essays, personal history and much else, what is remarkable is his forbearance under duress (even if it’s all self-imposed). It is such a pleasure to read, for example, his understated comments about the extremely rich tourists he travelled with in China. Reading between the lines, you get a clear idea of how grating some of them must have been. One minor quibble is that the collection was published about 10 years ago now and some of the pieces were not recent even then, so I would have liked to know just when they were written - it’s not always easy to get that from the context.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    This is a collection of Theroux's shorter travel pieces. Most have something interesting to offer ... cruising down the Yangtze in 1980 when the Cultural Revolution was fresh in people's minds; visiting Christmas Island in Micronesia, once the site for nuclear testing; comments on travel writing and travelling. I would give it 3.5 stars, maybe not quite up there with his fuller travel books, but readable nevertheless.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 3* but only just. 3* but only just.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Prima Seadiva

    Library Audiobook. Reader okay. Though he can write quite beautifully, it was kind of trudge to get through (19 discs). I would have liked a bit more background about the essays in terms of how they were organized and the chronology. This may be available in other editions but like most audiobooks this had no information. Some chapters did have a verbal listing of what was to follow but it didn't really help. Some essays were interesting, some boring and some were rants about other travelers and Library Audiobook. Reader okay. Though he can write quite beautifully, it was kind of trudge to get through (19 discs). I would have liked a bit more background about the essays in terms of how they were organized and the chronology. This may be available in other editions but like most audiobooks this had no information. Some chapters did have a verbal listing of what was to follow but it didn't really help. Some essays were interesting, some boring and some were rants about other travelers and people often about traits displayed by the author. This last is something I have noticed in some of his other work. So while I kind of enjoyed it I think a hard copy might be a better to approach the large amount of material but so often my eyes just can't take smaller type in large doses anymore. Too bad at least at our library, the large type section runs mostly to pop action and romance.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Parvathy

    It's a 3.5 really. This book of essays is a mixed bag, both in terms of quality and topics. Some riveting pieces of travel - Christmas Island, the Peace Corps experience in Malawi, HongKong just before the handover, rowing down the Zambezi. And some really boring ones - the one on '80s China seems really dated today and the rowing to Nantucket wasn't my cup of tea. The writer profiles were cool - especially Chatwin and Greene. There are a few compelling pieces on his own books and how they came a It's a 3.5 really. This book of essays is a mixed bag, both in terms of quality and topics. Some riveting pieces of travel - Christmas Island, the Peace Corps experience in Malawi, HongKong just before the handover, rowing down the Zambezi. And some really boring ones - the one on '80s China seems really dated today and the rowing to Nantucket wasn't my cup of tea. The writer profiles were cool - especially Chatwin and Greene. There are a few compelling pieces on his own books and how they came about. Overall, Thoreaux is being Thoreaux - cranky and disgruntled a lot of the time and amazingly buoyant sometimes. A fun read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Raghu

    This book is one of the best I have read from Paul Theroux. It is a great collection of essays on travel, adventure, his writer friends and his vision of what travel is all about and why he travels and what travel has taught him and how travel has 'made' him. Every time I read him and see the way he writes, I get discouraged about my own attempts at writing because I feel that one should write only if one can write like him; otherwise it is not worth writing. This book has two lovely essays on Ch This book is one of the best I have read from Paul Theroux. It is a great collection of essays on travel, adventure, his writer friends and his vision of what travel is all about and why he travels and what travel has taught him and how travel has 'made' him. Every time I read him and see the way he writes, I get discouraged about my own attempts at writing because I feel that one should write only if one can write like him; otherwise it is not worth writing. This book has two lovely essays on Cherri-Garrard and Robert Scott's adventures in sourcing emperor penguin eggs in the Antarctic winter and the journey to the south pole. Theroux quotes Cherri-Garrard's philosophical words: "...if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. If you are brave, you will do nothing. If you are fearful, you may do much , for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery...". In the introduction 'Being a Stranger', Theroux gives clues to his existential condition. He says , "For long periods of my life, living in places where I did not belong , I have been a perfect stranger. I asked myself whether my sense of otherness was the human condition....I was an outsider before I was a traveller and I was a traveller before I was a writer.....One of the paradoxes of otherness is that in travel, each conceives the other to be a foreigner. But even the most distant and exotic place has its parallel in ordinary life.." Theroux says that he discovered who he was and what he stood for through solitary travel.He has done solo adventures in remote and rather dangerous places around the world. For him, being in a kayak and sailing away into the ocean is the perfect way to be at one with himself. This book has excellent and penetrative insights and essays on China just at the time of handover of Hong Kong to China. His tribute to Bruce Chatwin and Moritz Thomsen is touching. Also, for all those people who keep saying that he is a misanthrope, his tribute to one Rajat Niyogi, an Indian in Uganda in the 1960's is a must read. I enjoyed reading this book very much and learnt much from it. It is one of Paul Theroux's best.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    This was a strange mixture of Paul Theroux's non-fiction writing. There was less of his usual travel writing, which I enjoy so much. Near the beginning was an large, difficult-to-digest chunk on modern China reminiscent of the least enjoyable swathes of a school history syllabus. I willed myself through it and ended up feeling I knew a bit more about the country, if not attracted to it. However, it is surely a worthy report and analysis. Theroux really does get right into the thick of places and This was a strange mixture of Paul Theroux's non-fiction writing. There was less of his usual travel writing, which I enjoy so much. Near the beginning was an large, difficult-to-digest chunk on modern China reminiscent of the least enjoyable swathes of a school history syllabus. I willed myself through it and ended up feeling I knew a bit more about the country, if not attracted to it. However, it is surely a worthy report and analysis. Theroux really does get right into the thick of places and his anecdotes about individual people are vivid. The remainder of the book featured travel writing in the form of articles and essays. Of particular interest, I thought, were those on the Upper Zambesi and the hand over of Hong Kong. Other parts discussed diverse themes including the actual business of travel writing and a fascinating one about other travel writers including Graham Greene and Bruce Chatwin. A bit of a mix, this book, where one might be inclined to skip sections, but there is much of interest and several delightful pieces.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Everything folks in the reviews here are saying about Paul Theroux's character is quite possibly true. He certainly goes off the edge on occasion (most particularly when writing ungenerously about other writers) where I just know that if I was having coffee with him I would find an excuse to get up and leave. But that's likely true of most of us. And he has a really good side too. And his flaws do not change the fact that he's a great observer, he has a keen sense of what matters, and he has tra Everything folks in the reviews here are saying about Paul Theroux's character is quite possibly true. He certainly goes off the edge on occasion (most particularly when writing ungenerously about other writers) where I just know that if I was having coffee with him I would find an excuse to get up and leave. But that's likely true of most of us. And he has a really good side too. And his flaws do not change the fact that he's a great observer, he has a keen sense of what matters, and he has traveled to an extraordinary number of places and he writes about them in wonderful detail. He always talks about the people he meets. The theme of outdoor exploration is really a loose pretext for this collection I think. It is an incredible globally wide ranging travelogue. I learned so much from this book. I highly recommend it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    Found this collection to be a bit uneven. Admittedly, I did skim some of the essays and entries. Sometimes Theroux can be a wonderfully funny and irreverent travel writer. Other times, he comes off as whiny and crabby. There were some pieces that I absolutely loved, and a few that I skipped. Good if you want to dip in and out, I guess.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I'm a fan of Paul Theroux in the New Yorker. I've never picked up a collection of his essays and decided to try this one. This man is adventurer extraordinaire, but his pretension is a little overpowering. Also, he might be the one adventure writer who hates China (besides Grace Paley back when she was a pro-Communist student).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Most of the book was ok although I did not enjoy the essays about authors' books and about funerals. So I skipped them.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Diane Reynolds

    I was once quite an enthusiastic reader of Theroux, and had read all of his books up until about ten years ago, when I began to sense a kind of crabbiness in his commentaries. Each time this vague awareness sneaks up on me, I go back and retrace my reading, trying to find some evidence of my vague unease, something at least more concrete that an unsupported "sense" of something chafing, but each time, so far, I've failed. So I conclude that I must be the one bringing the crabbiness to bear, and I was once quite an enthusiastic reader of Theroux, and had read all of his books up until about ten years ago, when I began to sense a kind of crabbiness in his commentaries. Each time this vague awareness sneaks up on me, I go back and retrace my reading, trying to find some evidence of my vague unease, something at least more concrete that an unsupported "sense" of something chafing, but each time, so far, I've failed. So I conclude that I must be the one bringing the crabbiness to bear, and keep on. Still, I can't entirely banish the sense that Mr. Theroux is not enjoying the people he comes into contact with in his travels, and because the people one meets, or merely observes, while traveling is one of a journey's rewards, it tarnishes the pleasure I used to have in reading his essays. I've not yet given up, but I have slowed down. This book in particular took an unusually long time to finish. Each time I picked up where I had left off, I had to reread a few pages, kind of rev myself up again, to get into the spirit of the thing once more.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Aida Fonollera

    In today’s age and time, it is easy enough to travel, pick your choice: land, air and water or space, take snapshots and come back home with memories. And why am I reading a travel book, again? When all it has done was put me to sleep. Because of this, I dared myself to find one that wouldn’t. And I had wanted to see what others found. Theroux enlightened me to look at travel book from another angle. “.... some travel book ought to have prepared us for those events....i.e., Iran and China Tiann In today’s age and time, it is easy enough to travel, pick your choice: land, air and water or space, take snapshots and come back home with memories. And why am I reading a travel book, again? When all it has done was put me to sleep. Because of this, I dared myself to find one that wouldn’t. And I had wanted to see what others found. Theroux enlightened me to look at travel book from another angle. “.... some travel book ought to have prepared us for those events....i.e., Iran and China Tiannamen Square.... maybe even prefigured them....” As a peace corp in his younger days, it may perhaps contributed to the author’s love for travel. And not merely traveling itself as a tourist, but using a not so common mode of transportation searching for that joy in travel. A bestseller, this is the second book I am reading by this author. He has mentioned his love for the open air, space which is completely opposite to a writer’s space, a chair, a room, a table, alone in solitude. This book is a collection of essays written at different times.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike Wood

    Lots of essays, with about as many Hits as Misses. Paul Theroux has always been a bit of an enigma to me. For a guy who doesn't seem to like people, he spends a lot of time traveling among them. For years, I just thought he just didn't like society, but the older he gets, to more he seems to have a problem with humanity. Not that he's inhumane, more that he regards us as some sort of parasite on the planet. And, frankly, he may be right

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alayne

    I usually really enjoy Paul Theroux's books, but this one was a collection of essays and they were a mixed bag of stories. The essays just seemed to have been collected and published, without editing, and so they could be quite repetitive. Not to say I didn't enjoy them at all, but just not as much as others of his that I have read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    marcia

    I would have given this book a 4 rating except for the many writers he talked about that were obscure to me . a mention would have been interesting but on and on about them became tedious. As I have read many books of his I did enjoy learning more about Paul and his adventures that I was unaware of from his other books. The personal side of this book was a 4 rating.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Emilie Vangilder

    A cross section of Theroux at his best. Travel essays about islands from Nantucket to a swathe of the South Pacific and a fascinating tour of a changing China prior to the British handover was some of the most compelling travel reading in memory, especially considering it’s datedness. Also, reviews and critiques of numerous other travel writers and their bodies of work. Excellent but more male centric than I remember from my first reading years ago.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    The Chapter on the Zambezi makes the entire book worthwhile. This is why I keep reading Theroux. His gift of capturing a place and its moment in time is special. His ability to keep that moment in focus for a significant duration makes him nearly unique among today's writers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Mertens

    I felt like this book was what you would get if Wilson from Home Improvement wrote a travel book. That was the voice I heard in my head as I read. I liked the shorter writings better than the longer ones as a general rule. I think I liked the parts about the Pacific most of all.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sutherland

    The author is as big a snob as he is a skilled writer.

  27. 4 out of 5

    David Norris

    Some gems in here as always with Theroux. I prefer his longer format and would have appreciated some more subcontinental content.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tsoleen Sarian

    Found it very pretentious. Got through a couple chapters and decided to move on.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. the widely used Inuit word for white person is kabloona (derived from qallunaat), which means something like "eyebrow stomachs," probably a reaction to whites' hairy bodies by the almost hairless Inuit. [p/11] the lisping silk of women's dresses [p/262] dishes piled high with chicken feet, or "phoenix feet." Hong Kong prostitutes enjoy the same lexical ambiguity, sometimes called chickens and sometimes phoenixes. [p/263] "Friendly" is just a tourist-industry sobriquet. In my experience, the friendl the widely used Inuit word for white person is kabloona (derived from qallunaat), which means something like "eyebrow stomachs," probably a reaction to whites' hairy bodies by the almost hairless Inuit. [p/11] the lisping silk of women's dresses [p/262] dishes piled high with chicken feet, or "phoenix feet." Hong Kong prostitutes enjoy the same lexical ambiguity, sometimes called chickens and sometimes phoenixes. [p/263] "Friendly" is just a tourist-industry sobriquet. In my experience, the friendliest people on Pacific islands are those who have the greatest assurance that you are going to leave soon. [p/279] "Your bowels shall sing like a harp," Isaiah says (in the Bible) [p/296] Thoreau made pencils for a living, and he influenced Mahatma Gandhi in his essay on civil disobedience, and his dying words were "Moose...Indian" Thoreau who was fascinated by queer names and bad puns, would undoubtedly have taken his revenge on the critic and made a wooden crutch joke of his name. In Cape Cod we get two groaners: a play on "littoral"/"literal" and a bit of meaningless fun with the Viking "Thor-finn" and the American adventurer "Thor-eau." [p/356] The word fetish derives from a Portuguese expression feticceio [p/406] English people peeking out the window and sizing up their neighbors. Mr. Beluncle is about suffocation."Then Ethel appeared in their rooms, with her hair dividing over her cheeks, and looking out from it like a savage peeping in terror from an old tent." [p/421] he described the diesel rhythm of the boat as "slow and languorous, like the heartbeat of a sleeping woman." [p/438] the section on unspeakable rituals is a very interesting read [p/443-453] beaks like scissors [p/456] this man knows so many obscure words for sex >buccal coition

  30. 4 out of 5

    Robert Isenberg

    Theroux is smart. Theroux is voracious. Theroux is downright fearless -- he travels to obscure places and interviews everybody, and he doesn't mind getting stuck in hairy situations. His profiles on exotic locales and his literary reviews are wonderful to read. People like me often aspire to be a writer like him. And yet. Where some people find him egotistical or glum, I think Theroux's biggest weakness is his self-satisfaction. There are many pieces in "Fresh Air Fiend" that flirt with arrogance. Theroux is smart. Theroux is voracious. Theroux is downright fearless -- he travels to obscure places and interviews everybody, and he doesn't mind getting stuck in hairy situations. His profiles on exotic locales and his literary reviews are wonderful to read. People like me often aspire to be a writer like him. And yet. Where some people find him egotistical or glum, I think Theroux's biggest weakness is his self-satisfaction. There are many pieces in "Fresh Air Fiend" that flirt with arrogance. Theroux not only criticizes others for their way of life (Americans, Brits, the Chinese), but he applauds his own lifestyle with joyless pride. Theroux reminds me of a lot of fellow New Englanders I've known -- unafraid to quote themselves, to cast themselves as heroes of their own narratives, then matter-of-factly condescend to others. Theroux is an empathetic fellow, and he claims that travel is an optimistic pursuit; these are the qualities that keep me reading. But I think I'll need a break from Theroux for a year or so. Spend enough time with him and you get the sneaking suspicion that Theroux is something of an misanthrope. He seems rootless and distant, a man of strong opinions and very little emotion. "Fresh Air Fiend" is my favorite kind of book, a collection of vignettes gathered over many years, as was his "Sunrise with Sea Monsters." I look forward to delving into Theroux's work again, but like two friends who have road-tripped too long together, I think we'll need to book separate rail passes. Sometime in the future, we will rendezvous again, and I'll remember solely the things I liked about him.

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