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IN BRIEF

Non Fiction

February 16, 1992|CHRIS GOODRICH

NEITHER HERE NOR THERE: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson (William Morrow: $20; 288 pp.). There's a sub-genre of travel writing, revived in recent years by the likes of Paul Theroux, P. J. O'Rourke, and John Krich, in which the footloose journey less to see new sights and people than to comment critically on other cultures. Bill Bryson, author of the well-received "The Mother Tongue," now joins this crowd, but decidedly on its outer margins; in much of this book he appears to be the stereotypical Ugly American, which makes his judgments and perceptions more than a little suspect. Bryson's first mistake is making himself the center of the book, for it's hard to like a beer-swilling, monolingual narrator whose humor runs to the sexual and scatological; his second is to remain, for the most part, on Europe's well-beaten tracks, thus ensuring that the reader will glean few new facts or insights. Although Bryson's descriptions of traffic patterns and parking in Paris and Rome, respectively, are amusing and accurate, the overall effect is still one of old wine in new, very ordinary bottles. Occasionally Bryson provides the perfect, telling detail--he once asked who guarded Denmark's Queen Margrethe on her morning trip to the flower market, and a man replied, "Why, we all do"--but most of the time Bryson seems to regard other cultures as fodder for a comedy routine.

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