cover image Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings, 1985-2000

Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings, 1985-2000

Paul Theroux. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $27 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-618-03406-2

In the 15 years since his first collection, Sunrise with Seamonsters, novelist and travel writer Theroux has gotten around. He's sailed the Yangtze River in China, crossed the U.S. in the comfort of a private rail car and camped during an ice storm in Maine. This collection gathers more than three dozen essays about these adventures and others, along with some book reviews. There is wide variety here, but Theroux's excellent observations of factory life in China rest uncomfortably on the same pages as his pride in exploring such places as Uganda, Honduras and Sicily before the ""deluge"" of other visitors (especially the ""supine"" tourists) swept in. Beyond the fun of learning about different parasites and reveling in his home turf around Cape Cod, these essays reveal much about the author himself. A solitary experience that requires self-imposed exile, optimism and a fair amount of ""self-delusion,"" travel is also, as Theroux notes, ""almost entirely an inner experience."" At its best, travel writing lends insight into the human experience; at its worst, it settles for lighthearted navel-gazing. This collection encompasses both ends of the spectrum--from Theroux's revelation that ""travel always involves a degree of trespass"" to his whimsical declaration that he reached the peak of ""fresh air fiendishness"" on a hot, moonlit night on the Filipino island of Palawan: ""Fulfilled, content, naked, alone, happy. I thought: I am a monkey."" Author tour. (May)