Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Grounded by Seth Stevenson

Source of book: Borrowed from the library.
Date originally posted on Facebook: February 7, 2011

I am slowly reposting my old reviews on the blog. This one is from the early days, before I felt free to write long posts. Hmm, not sure if that was bad or good. Anyway, this book was a fun and quick read. 


While the travelogue has been a part of the literary tradition at least since the days of the Roman Empire, it was Mark Twain that set the standard for the snarky American version. (As a bonus, we can discuss whether “snark” should derive from a portmanteau of “snide” and “remark” or from Lewis Carroll’s poem.) In any case, SethStevenson’s book is firmly in the Twain tradition, with a nod to Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days.

Stevenson is a contributor to Slate.com, which is where I discovered him. He formerly wrote the “Ad Report Card”, a witty (and thoroughly snarky) deconstruction of current advertisements, primarily television ads.

This book recounts his circumnavigation of the globe using only surface transportation. Stevenson and his then girlfriend had in common a wanderlust, which lead them to quit their jobs and circle the globe with a purpose: avoid air travel at all costs. This is apparently harder than one would think.

This book is a quick and easy read. No small print, archaic language, or diary entries to slow it down. Humor abounds, as Stevenson is able to laugh at all of their misfortunes.

Stevenson and his girlfriend travel by freighter, cruise ship, ferry, train, bus, car, and bicycle. They cross every longitudinal line, and also the equator twice, covering in excess of 25,000 miles.

My favorite scenes: Traveling in a Russian train with a couple of Russian guys that fit all the stereotypes, including the huge bottle of vodka. Stevenson willing himself to the top of a hill on a bicycle in Vietnam. The ubiquitous Filipino cover band found anywhere in South Asia.

While this book will never become the classic at the level of Innocents Abroad, it makes a fun weekend read.

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