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Books to Go

Peace Corps Writers Talk

October 23, 1994|COLMAN ANDREWS

GOING UP COUNTRY; TRAVEL ESSAYS BY PEACE CORPS WRITERS, edited by John Coyne(Charles Scribner's Sons, $21 hardcover).

"For . . . five years in the United States," writes Susan K. Lowerre in "To Spend the Night Laughing," her contribution to this collection, "I longed for Senegal: the unfenced desert and the magical green-blue river cutting through it, swift kingfishers collecting along its banks. I missed the villagers' greetings, their warmth and easy laughter, the simple wisdom they possess--that life and death are in store for all of us." A number of one-time Peace Corps volunteers have turned into writers, it seems (Paul Theroux, for instance, once served the organization in Malawi). "Going Up Country" gives 13 of them the chance to return to their former haunts, both recalling their former adventures and observing the places today. Theroux is not represented here--about the best-known of the contributors is probably GQ columnist and author Bob Shacochis--but the prose is solid and occasionally inspired.

Some of the tales (for instance, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith's "Piquing the Spirits," set in Cameroon) are darkly comic; others, like Lowerre's account of Senegal, are a bit on the romantic side. There's lots of personality in this volume, though, and there are plenty of small illuminations of places little known to most of us.


"I don't suppose you would find one man in a hundred," Robert Benchly once wrote, "who has made a nickel by taking a drink." Well, William Bunch may not have figured out how to make money by drinking, but he did come up with a way to bring in a few bucks by hanging out in bars and taverns and such all over America. Simultaneously, he also came up with a new way to approach what might be called the American "road chronicle"--that genre of books, of which a dozen or so are published annually, that recount the adventures of one soul or another as he or she wanders this great land of ours in pursuit of some thing or other. In Bunch's case, the journey ranges from Manhattan to Seattle, Chicago to the Mississippi Delta--and the Grail for which he searches is what he irreverently calls the Juke of the Covenant, which is to say the greatest jukebox in America. Bunch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for New York Newsday, combines a reporter's ear for dialogue with a feature-writer's eye for color, and comes up with a very entertaining book--full of musical asides, observations on America's bar culture(s), and a fair amount of talkin'-'bout-his-generation. And, yes, he finally finds his Juke of the Covenant; to his credit, though, he doesn't stop jukeboxing once he does.

AUSTRALIA FOR WOMEN, edited by Susan Hawthorne & Renate Klein (The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, $17.95 paper).

Australia is a macho country where the men call all the women Sheila, right? Not in this book. This Australia is a place with a "rich culture of women that dates back 40,000 years or more" (roughly about as far as the rich culture of men, I'd guess), a country full of "women's cultural events, historical sites, and women-run enterprises." Though there is guidebook-style material scattered throughout this volume, there's a lot more to it than that. It is a compilation of prose (and sometimes poetry) by and about women in Australia, sometimes academic, sometimes polemical, widely varying in literary merit, covering everything from the arts to the nature of Australian cities and countrysides to wildlife and social customs. Some chapter titles: "Puppets to Playwrights: Girls on Stage," "Walking in the Wilderness--Tasmania," "Women in the Tropical North," "The Revolutionary Nature of Lesbian Organic Gardening" and "Rural Women's Syndrome." This is the first in a series of books, with "Italy for Women" and "Greece for Women" to follow next.

Quick trips:

ALASKA; PLANNING YOUR OWN TRIP, third edition, by Cindy Roland (Salmonberry Publishing Co., $8.95 paper). A nuts-and-bolts how-to-do-it guide with an authoritative tone ("Day 13--Rent car and drive the Kenai Peninsula; spend 3 nights"), though certainly not an unfriendly one ("I'd sure like to hear how your trip goes").

HOSTELLING INTERNATIONAL 1994; AFRICA, AMERICA, ASIA AND OCEANIA and HOSTELLING INTERNATIONAL 1994; EUROPE AND THE MEDITERRANEAN (both Hostelling International, $10.95 paper). These comprehensive, official Hostelling International network guides, in English, French, German and Spanish, are simply abbreviated directories to hostels (for, as they inevitably say, the young at heart as well as the young) pretty much all over the world.

THE SEAGOING HITCHHIKER'S HANDBOOK; ROAMING THE EARTH ON OTHER PEOPLE'S YACHTS by Greg Becker (High Adventure Publishing, $11.95 paper). If you know how to sail--even the basics--and have more time than money, says Greg Baker, you can hang around the harbors and marinas of the world and almost certainly get invited, sooner or later, to cruise off on some greater or lesser boat. He offers general tips, suggestions on what and where to learn before sticking out your nautical thumb (and neck), and a list of the aforementioned harbors and marinas. Bon voyage.

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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