Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Ride in the Neon Sun – Josie Dew

I love reading travel writing. I especially like those where the writer actually interacts with the people of the country on a very personal level. Josie Dew is one who puts caution to the wind and just goes out and sees what happens. If you like Bill Bryson you will like Josie Dew, she has the same sense of the absurd and sees the characters around her. She writes very well and keeps you interested. Sometimes travel books have a down time, when the person has been on the road so long they are getting a bit tired of it. Josie never gets to that point. She seems to have boundless energy.

In this book she is traveling by bicycle in Japan...accidentally. She was heading to New Zealand and ended up in Japan. She doesn't know any Japanese and she is planning on tent camping...though she isn't sure if this is allowed. She makes her way through the south before she is called back home. She is deluged with gifts from everyone, including children. She travels through typhoons and the rainy season, staying with families or sweating the night away in her tent.

She starts in Tokyo, travels down around the Okinawa islands and then back. Her biggest obstacles where the tunnels, because some of them were very long, very dark, and didn’t have any extra room for bikes. Also, the many habu, which is a deadly poisonous snake…well actually she mostly sees them dead laying on the road. She stays with many families and describes what modern Japanese households are like, a mixture of the modern and traditional in one.

Probably the funniest time was one night when she wanted to find somewhere to camp. She stopped at a house to see if the person knew of a place she could put her tent. She was invited in and allowed to bath and was fed by a lovely couple. They were disappointed when she insists on camping. The man rides with her to a local park where he leaves her to set up the tent. As she is getting settled for the night she hears sounds outside the tent that worried her, it turned out to be three men. The men were sent by the couple to check on her, let her know that it is supposed to rain and they all had gifts. Then the couple show up with supper. The rain starts very late in the night and she is visited again by one of the men from early trying to get her to come to his family home so that she doesn’t have to get so wet. She refuses as kindly has she can. In the morning she is awaken again by someone with her breakfast. Her description of this one night is so funny; you can’t help but laugh out loud.

She includes some history, but not too much. She also has a really nice glossary in the back, a very small index, and a complete list of the equipment that she took with her. She also includes a chronology of Japanese history to help you place time periods she talks about. The illustrator does a good job with the maps which carry on the fun theme; the drawings are very funny interpretations of what happens to her.

This is Dews third book. In her first, The Wind in My Wheels, she writes a compilation of different trips she took on her bike, with or without other people. In her second, Travels in a Strange State she visited the United States, though she writes mostly about Hawaii. She also has three other books since, in the next Sun in My Eyes she returns to Japan. She has a very good website where you can get a better sense of the places she has visited in her books, She also has a forum where you can post messages, which I think is a nice touch. She does reply if you post a question.

Titles of all her books in order of publication:

Wind in My Wheels

Travels in a Strange State

Ride in the Neon Sun

Sun in My Eyes

Slow Coast Home

Saddled at Sea

I’m now going to read a mystery by Martha Grimes, The Winds of Change. I’ve been holding off on this a bit, only because I can tell it is going to be a bit dark and I’ve not really wanted to read anything very dark. But I’m going to give it a go now. I’m also reading Proust’s Swann’s Way at work, and will be starting a mystery by Beverly Connor Dressed to Die which fits very well in my purse.

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