Book review: Lonely Planet’s Better than Fiction

Better than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers is a 300+ page collection of travel stories. So far I haven’t found many typical travel experiences – no surprise that the stuff you read in the newspaper doesn’t cut it for well-known fiction writers – the stories here are a bit more sensational. I think this is for the best. For example, Adrift in the Solomon Islands by Mark Dapin, speaks of how “Marovo Lagoon, the largest saltwater lagoon in the world, was one of the loveliest places on earth, with water like brilliant sheets of beaten silver surrounded by brilliant green rain forest and teeming with riotously vivid fish.”

I find the repetition of the word brilliant, the teeming with fish, and so on doesn’t do much for me. On the other hand, meeting a devil priest on Funafou who took the men the men’s house (where inside there were spears and skulls) and the author’s girlfriend to the bisi, “where women were sent during menstruation and after childbirth.” These people who followed the old religion tried to annoy their relatives who were Seventh-day Adventists on a neighboring island keeping their pigs in cages facing the other island. That’s sort of thing I enjoy reading about.

Grief tourism (or dark tourism) is well represented. So far I’ve read Confessions of a Coconut-Soup Eater by Steven Amsterdam and A visit to San Quentin by Joyce Carol Oates. In the first, Steven Amsterdam gets to Toraja, Indonesia, where tourists go for the unusual funeral and burial practices: “We visited burial trees and caves, looked into the balconies packed with effigies that were looking at us. I remember piles of bones and baby-filled trees.” The prison tourism story talks about how difficult it can be to cope with the reality of prison life. The one hour tour felt like sevral hours of misery and left the author exhausted, and fighting not to faint.

There are a number of other stories in here too. I haven’t read them all, but I’m looking forward to them. If you want to read about some experiences you’ll never have, this is probably a good book for you.

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