Perceptive Travel Book Reviews November 2014
by William Caverlee



In this issue: a second biking journey across America, a profile of a famous yachting couple, and an account of China's depressingly thorough rape of Tibet.



Life Is a Wheel
By Bruce Weber

At age 57, veteran New York Times writer Bruce Weber decided to repeat his feat of 18 years earlier: a solo bicycle ride across the United States. His journey would take him on a northern route, west to east, through states like Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. A daunting proposal and a journey that would seem ideal for a traditional travelogue.

Writers in the 21st century, however, aren't interested in mere travelogues. These days, a travel book must be an autobiography, a psychological confession, and an Oprah-worthy saga of self-discovery.

Even a canny newspaperman like Weber can succumb to Opraholism, and Life Is a Wheel fully informs us of the author's family life, love life, medical life, professional life. From Chapter One:

Off the top of my head, here's a quick summary: Both of my parents died. My brother had a son. I survived some bad episodes of depression and anxiety, but eventually ended twenty years of therapy and felt better for it. I moved to Chicago and back to New York. I spent four years as a theatre critic. I wrote a book—two, actually, if you count the short one for kids… A handful of sincere and serious love affairs began and ended. I renovated my apartment. Twice.

Blessedly, we finally embark with him from Astoria, Oregon, and begin making our way across all those faraway states—the entire trip will cover 4,152 miles and take 79 days.

Weber carries a tent and a sleeping bag, but plans to spend nights in motels and take his meals in cafĂ©s and restaurants. Life Is a Wheel is another installment in the Great American Road Trip, with Weber meeting ranchers, waitresses, motel clerks, and the occasional fellow cyclist along the way. The overwhelming majority of his encounters are benevolent, we're happy to learn. Near the end of the book, Weber reflects on the myriad towns he's cycled through: "Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, McMinnville, Estacada, Troutdale, Hood River, The Dalles, Biggs Junction, and Umatilla, Oregon…"

He goes on with this list for a couple of pages, creating a kind of mild American poem. For an armchair traveler, these place names with their evocation of small diners and dusty farm roads are the best part of Life Is a Wheel. I stand in awe of Weber's courage and hardihood in taking on a solo bike journey of this magnitude. I only wish he had resisted the siren call of confessionals and omitted about half of his personal revelations. When it stays on course, Life Is a Wheel is a fine snapshot of the United States and a useful guide for long-distance cyclists.






As Long As It's Fun
By Herb McCormick

Like bicycle touring, blue-water sailing is one of the subdivisions of the travel industry. A private club for the privileged few. Yacht owners have been known to argue that a Caribbean cruise is within the budget of the average family and that sailing is a recreation for everyone … Sure. Sure it is.

As Long As It's Fun is a biography of Lin and Larry Pardey, the world's most famous ocean-going married couple. Years ago, at a charity book sale, I picked up a copy of Cruising in Seraffyn, the Pardeys' first book, and added it to my adventure-book collection. Today, their bibliography lists 16 books and DVDs, from travelogues to how-tos.

The Pardeys first met in Southern California in the 1960s and built the 24-foot wooden Seraffyn by themselves. In 1969, they departed on an 11-year meandering circumnavigation, becoming authors along the way. They wintered in various ports, embarked on new voyages whenever they felt like it, and paid the bills by picking up odd jobs, like waterborne backpackers, living from hand to mouth.

Over the years, their many books, magazine articles, and speaking engagements have added up to an appealing, highly photogenic lifestyle of adventure and entrepreneurism. The Pardeys decided that they wanted no part of the 9-to-5 corporate world, and, amazingly, they pulled it off, and created a completely original life for themselves.

While the credit for their boat's name belonged to a Welsh troubadour named Seraffyn Mork, another bard from the UK was largely responsible for the collective onboard vibe and mindset. Passing the window of a bookstore one day, Lin had spied a copy of The Wisdom of Insecurity, by the contemporary English philosopher and author Alan Watts … Watt's thesis was clear-cut: Acknowledge that some things in the universe are simply unknowable. Thus true "security" is unobtainable. So embrace the immediate. Live fully by living in the moment.

Today, the Pardeys no longer cross oceans, but still take out their hand-built wooden yacht (Taleisin, the successor to the legendary Seraffyn) for day cruises near their home base in New Zealand.

Author McCormick is a long-time friend of the Pardeys and himself a sailing writer and editor; thus, As Long As It's Fun, while not labelled as such, is an authorized biography. McCormick's writing is workmanlike, as he recounts the Pardeys' enviable life aboard ship, with plenty of backstage drama and perilous scenes at sea.






Meltdown in Tibet
By Michael Buckley

As an American, I guess I should be happy that China has knocked the U.S. out of first place in the "destroy the planet" contest—the People's Republic now emits more carbon dioxide than any other nation on earth. That's small consolation for countries like Tibet, on the receiving end of China's oppression and rapacity.

Canadian Michael Buckley has been traveling to Tibet for years. His latest book, Meltdown in Tibet, contains plenty of travel stories, but it is primarily a polemic, a report on China's exploitation and environmental pillage of its smaller neighbor. Buckley files his dispatches calmly; his analysis is based on wide-ranging research as well as his own travels. Still, he can't help writing in a tone of outrage and anger.

Meltdown in China is a catalog of China's eco-assaults upon Tibet: deforestation, slaughter of wildlife, desertification of grasslands, resettlement of nomadic populations, unchecked mining and building of megadams, re-directing of rivers, pollution. All the while, China is steadily sending tens of thousands of Chinese tourists to Tibet, while touting the clear skies of Tibet as a paradise.

In his central argument, Buckley explains that the Tibetan Plateau is the source of major rivers that flow into the deltas of Asia: Yangtse, Mekong, Indus, Irrawaddy, and Ganges. Millions of people in Southeast Asia, India, and Pakistan depend on these rivers; thus, Buckley sees China's plunder of Tibet as a water theft with unprecedented political and environmental implications.

"What's to be done?" one asks, after reading Buckley's account of this man-made hell. It goes without saying that we are all implicated. For example, Buckley notes that the lithium in our cell phone batteries might easily have come from a mine in Tibet.

We Westerners don't have much moral high ground to stand on when it comes to environmental depredations, but perhaps, at the very least, we can join with Michael Buckley in support of Tibet. [Editor's note: parts of this book are drawn from Buckley's previous articles in Perceptive Travel. See more here]




William Caverlee is a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including The Oxford American, The Christian Science Monitor, Aviation History, Flight Journal, World War II Quarterly and Louisiana Cultural Vistas. He's the author of a collection of essays, Amid the Swirling Ghosts and Other Essays, published by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press.



See the last round of book reviews from William Caverlee





Also in this issue:


Life Is a Wheel

Buy Life Is a Wheel in your local bookstore or online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
Kobo



As Long As It's Fun

Buy As Long As It's Fun in your local bookstore or online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK





Meltdown in Tibet

Buy Meltdown in Tibet at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
Kobo







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