Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Life changing books

Given my itchy feet (see yesterday's blog), I'm not at all sure that reading travel books is a particularly good idea.  But I enjoy the genre.  At least, I enjoy part of the genre.  Or maybe it's just that I enjoy the writing of some of the authors who have specialised in the genre.

There are three authors especially who spring to mind.  I don't remember which of them was the first I read but I suspect it was Peter Mayle with A Year in Provence.  Just how much of the book is fact and how much fiction is, I suspect, something we - or, at any rate, I shall never know.  In the days after it was published (good heavens it was in 1989) I was probably naive enough to think it truly autobiographical with every word telling the truth, the whole truth (well, maybe the whole truth) but definitely nothing but the truth.  I enjoyed the book, and the television mini-series that came from it starring the late John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan (I still look out for programmes she is in but without much success).  The book didn't particularly excite my interest in visiting Provence or the Luberon in particular - that was already on my bucket list along with about 999 other places - but I did get there eventually.

The second of those three authors is Bill Bryson.  I distinctly remember people saying that one should not read his Notes From a Small Island on a train for fear of other passengers thinking one off one's rocker because of the raucous laughter engendered by Mr Bryson's descriptions of England.  We English seem to take a masochistic pleasure in reading slightly rude or uncivil things about us and our homeland, or perhaps that is more a matter of laughing at some poor foreigner who doesn't understand how we do things here.  Bill Bryson, of course, went on to become almost an honorary Englishman, has been President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Chancellor of Durham University.  He has been awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire - otherwise known as Other Buggers' Efforts).

The third writer seemed to me to be an unlikely author.  Chris Stewart was the drummer with Genesis, the rock band featuring Phil Collins et al.  He retired from the music scene at the grand old age of 17, took up sheep shearing and subsequently became a peasant farmer in Spain.  Driving Over Lemons was his first book describing his life as an ex-pat.

OK, so I enjoyed reading each of those three books.  But were they life changing?  Not for me.  And I have listed only three titles; Suldog gave us fifteen, and he claimed that those fifteen books were life-changing.  No, I lie; he didn't claim that.  He just said that he would list fifteen books "that had a dramatic impact on [his] life, or that make [him] happy in [his] pants, or that [he] took out of the library and never returned, or something like that."  And there, tucked away at the end of the post, was an addendum.  [Where else would one expect to find an addendum, you ask?  Just get over it!]  In that addendum he mentioned Notes From a Small Island, which reminded me.  So if you are looking for somebody to blame for all this mind-blowing information, look no further than here.

One thing those three authors share, apart from living in and writing about a country other than the land of their births, is that although they have all had more books published, these were (I believe) their first and none of the subsequent books quite lived up to the early promise.  In my opinion.


And having given pride of place to Peter Mayle and the Luberon, it seems only right that I should post a picture of the area.  This is the village of Loumarin with the Luberon mountain in the background - and the picture would not be complete without the olive tree.

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