But Without Music..

Posted on November 6, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

On the bus trip up to the Cameron Highlands it finally happened; I ran
out of books to read. Despite our post
about the music we don’t have with us, we do have some low tech forms
of entertainment to help out with all the time we’re spending on
transport. We’ve had some very good luck with our books, and the story
of how we got them (as well as what they’re about and how good they
are) should be an interesting break from our travels, so consider this
a book report – part one :->.

It would obviously be awkward for us to carry around multiple books
constantly, so we had always planned on carrying three:

1) Our current guide book
2) A book for me to read
3) A book for Rachel to read

To help save on weight, we also need to ensure that the book I’m
reading is a book Rachel is happy to read after I have finished with
it and vice versa. It would do us no good to lug around a book on
multi-agent systems since Rachel won’t read it afterwards, nor would
it do her any good to carry around childhood psychology (gah!). I’m
going to skip the guidebooks for now, so just take it as read that we
have it and are carrying it around.

So what did we start with? Well, we arrived at Heathrow airport 6
weeks ago and we only had one other book with us: the Gardner Dozois
edited The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 21 (actually the 25th edition, but the UK
publishers picked up on the annual anthology a bit late in the game,
and so name it differently). This is a selection of sci-fi novellas
and short stories published in the year previous, and is always
astounding. For those of you that don’t think you like sci-fi – give
it a shot anyway. This edition has a beautiful story by Stephen Baxter
about family and social relationships, a detective story, at least 2
love stories and some historical writing too. It even has a story
about the Hellfire Club in West Wycombe! Sci-fi has it all, and can
remind me of the UK at the same time :->. It’s ideal for travelling,
because you get many different stories in the same sized package.

At Heathrow, Rachel picked up her first book from WH Smith – the
entirely unexpected ‘The Historian’ by
Elizabeth Kostova. She picked it up because “it looked good, it looked
interesting and it looked well written”. It’s pitched as gothic
horror, with the historical Dracula – Vlad Tepes – as its focus. It is
written in the gothic format: recollections from different characters,
journal entries. I found it wonderful for the trip – it’s long and
dripping in historical details and well described cities and
characters. Although I’m not a huge fan of horror novels as a whole,
this reads more like a mystery book, and by the end of it I was
longing to visit Turkey and Eastern Europe.

Our addition joined us in Luang Prabang. One of the cafes recommended
to us in the guide book is also a second hand book store and within it
we found Ben Goodacre’s ‘Bad Science’ for
practically no money. The book is an attempt by the author (who is a
medical doctor by training, and also writes a column of the same name
for the UK national newspaper The Guardian) to clarify how medical
science works, how rigorous trials can be filled with useless
information, and how the media tends to either distort or pick up on
entirely the wrong end of the stick when reporting medical stories
(see: MMR vaccine, fish oil tablets and ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith). It’s
really funny and an interesting critical read. I tore through the book
quite quickly after I finished the sci-fi collection, as Rachel was
just about to finish ‘The Historian’.

A few days later whilst visiting Thone, Aiden, Gerard and my cousins
in Vientiane, we noticed that Gerard and Thone run a book exchange out
of their shop. Excellent! Many of the books were travel guides to
South East Asia, but we ended up exchanging Bad Science for ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good an Evil’ on a whim. I remembered the name from somewhere,
but didn’t know anything about the book before picking it up.

When I finished ‘The Historian’, I picked up ‘Midnight..’ and started
running through it. If you’ve never read it, order it now from your
favorite book service. It’s an amazingly well written travelogue, with
character portraits which flow chapter after chapter. I know now that
the book is also based on real events, although as the author states
in the book he has mangled some of the story together and changed the
timing to make it a better read.

What was most interesting for me was that, like ‘The Historian’, it
made me want to get up and visit a place that is nowhere near our trip
list. In fact this week, I found this article
on the Lonely Plant website about the way that tourism in Savannah was
boosted a huge amount by the publication of the book.

And now, our final book for this wrap up is Eric Clapton: The Autobiography, for which we exchanged ‘The Historian’ for free at
our guest house in Siem Reap. There was a great picture of Clapton on
the cover, and since we’re both music fans, we figured it’d be a good

So, what about this book? Well, for a start it’s obviously not ghost
written. If you pick through the Library Thing reviews of the book
everyone is of the opinion that he could have done with a better
editor; events pass unevenly and the use of English in the written
form isn’t great (much like this post :->). However, it is an
interesting insight into his life, and his overcoming addictions to
drugs and alcohol. Most interesting for me were the small vignettes –
George Harrison writing ‘Here Comes the Sun’, playing of an acetate
copy of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band, the last
gig of Stevie-Ray Vaughn – different insights into the lives of great

It also reminded me how much great music there is in the world, and I
finished feeling that I needed to make steady lists of things to buy
when we return to the UK.

So that’s it! We have now thankfully found somewhere to exchange these
last three books (which Rachel has now also finished), so we might
throw them up in a blog post later on. If you like this sort of thing,
let us know! I’m sure we can find some more trappings of our travels
to report on.

Until next time,


Posted via email from dreadpiratesarcas


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