The Global Suitcase

Author: Mary J. Dinan
Publisher: New Holland
Star Rating: 2/5
Date Read: April 30th to May 5th, 2014
Thank you to Goodreads and New Holland publishers for providing me with a copy of this book.

I love to travel and I love to read about travel in all its forms. I love journeys into the unknown and I love exploring my own backyard. You would think this book, a collection of interviews with people who have done exactly that, would suit me perfectly. You would be wrong.

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Gulliver’s Travels

Author: Jonathan Swift
Publisher: Collins Classics
Star Rating: 2.5/5
Date Read: February 12th to 24th, 2014
My first review uploaded here in real time, rather than just as part of my backlog of reviews!

Whew. I finished. Go me!

12 days is much longer than it would usually take for me to finish a book less than 300 pages, but you know, there’s been an exam to study for, wakeboarding to do and just, well – this book was just a tad boring. I don’t know how else to say this but it was good and not good at the same time. Let me try to tell you how…

Gulliver’s Travels is firstly a satire of the travellers’ tales so popular at the time (released only 7 years after Robinson Crusoe – which I found rather boring and infinitely worse than this book) and secondly one of the first fantasy-type novels to be published, where Gulliver is thrown into various situations where he is the outcast to miniscule people, giant people, the scientifically advanced people of a floating island, and talking horses. The talking horses is the part that really got to me (despite being quite fond of horses!) but I will get to that later.

Lemuel Gulliver could either be the most unluckiest or the luckiest traveller in the world – depending of course on your point of view. First he is shipwrecked, then abandoned, then attacked by strangers and finally attacked by his own crew. It’s enough to wonder why you would keep heading back out to sea when you had a family and a profession as a surgeon at home. But then followed all the wonderful places he happened upon and people he met, that no other human being had ever laid eyes on (Really? No one else stumbled upon these other magic islands?). Then come some small adventures, mainly a lot of conversation. There is a pattern that follows whenever Gulliver washes up on an island – learn the language (as he is already proficient in languages this isn’t too hard to believe – except when he learns ‘horse’), befriends the natives – usually a king, queen or some other notable individual, becomes adapted to their ways, and then is either unceremoniously asked to leave or himself asks for a passage home – even when none of his hosts know where ‘home’ is.

Gulliver doesn’t have too many adventures within his adventures, instead as he learns the ways and laws of the people he meets, he compares them to his happy home in England, which at the start of the book he is very proud of and by the end he doesn’t want to return to. I was enjoying the satire until the story arrived at Part Four, where Gulliver lands on the home of the Houyhnhnms, or the talking horses. This is where it got way too far fetched for me to enjoy. The horses of this island pronounce distinguishable words through variants of neighing and our little adventurer is able to not only understand but become fluent in their language. These horses are able to, with the hollow between pastern and hoof, use tools and milk cows (are you thinking what? yet?) and keep a herd of brute-like humans known as ‘Yahoos’ for labouring, etc. It is here that our protagonist, kept as a pet, sees the evil of human nature for the first time and laments when he is told to return to his country and the other Yahoos who live there. He doesn’t want to be banished among the others of his kind because he can’t stand their deformities or their smell. Well somebody is up on their high horse now! (Excuse the pun.) I did agree with many of the observations made by Gulliver’s Master Horse but Gulliver only embodies the worst of humankind when he dreads going home to his wife and family, even though he has been gone for five years, and rejects the kindness of the man who rescues him and helps him home. There is so much Gulliver could do with his new knowledge but instead he locks himself up at home, sure he writes a memoir of his travels, but surely once you’ve been exposed to the villainy of humankind wouldn’t you be motivated to inflict some change? Nope, not Gulliver. Sit at home and cry that the horses kicked him off the island and now he has to live with smelly Yahoos who actually have been nothing but kind to him.

I actually think through writing this review I dislike the book and the man more than when I was reading it. 2.5 stars for the enjoyment I did get.

Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America

Author: Mark Schimmoeller
Publisher: Alice Peck
Star Rating: 3.5/5
Date Read: February 4th to 8th, 2014
Thank you to the author for sending me a copy of this book. This did not influence my review in any way.

The unique story of Mark Schimmoeller, who after college left an internship to pursue a dream of unicycling across America, is unlike anything else I have ever read. How many people do you know who ride a unicycle, let alone decide to trek across America on one? It’s an impressive feat to say the least. One Schimmoeller is fairly modest about, really. These days he has hung up the unicycle (but not quite for good) and lives a sustainable lifestyle in the woods with his wife, not far from the home he grew up in. The book is written in an alternative perspective, one based on his time on the road, the other of his quiet life where he has no electricity or water, instead uses a rain catchment system and a solar cooker and is fighting to save the land surrounding him from development.

I enjoyed the imagery presented in this book of not only the woods where he lives, but also of the places he traveled through and the interesting characters met along the way. However, I felt there were a lot of irrelevant passages about his dreams (that made no sense, as dreams in real life often don’t) and random recountings of his childhood that disrupted the flow of the narrative. I liked how he related his unicycle journey to the life he knew at home, but a lot of little anecdotes didn’t feel like they belonged. This made the book seem much longer than it was and made it difficult to finish. I found my attention wavering as I inched towards the end, even though I was curious to see how it all wrapped up – it just took some work and concentration to get there. Maybe they should have been a little harsher on the cutting room floor (applies for books too yeah?).

Schimmoeller mentions that he likes happy endings, and this is apparent in the way he glosses over how plain difficult it must have been to travel such distances on a unicycle in such ever changing environments. Any hardships are brushed off, fixed by a meal and a good night’s sleep, making it seem fairly easy to pedal cross country on a bike with only one wheel. While we definitely should encourage people to achieve great things, it’s something else to ignore all the bad bits. And even if your journey over all was a success, of course there’s going to be bad days and rough days and days where you want to go home. It’s not realistic to pretend that they don’t exist. I’m not looking for drama, just a bit more raw honesty would have been nice.

Other than the lengthy descriptions I found Schimmoeller to be a talented writer, although in some parts he came off a little self-righteous I was able to move past it due to my sheer interest in his way of life so different from my own. I can sympathise with him about the threat of further development in his secluded area, and to be honest his travel adventures made me want to have my own – just maybe with four wheels instead of one.