webBikeWorld.com Book Review by Rick K.
When not one, but two motorcycle travel books arrived, I shuddered.
I've read my share of travel books, and I'll say this to prospective
authors: just because you buy a motorcycle and set off on an adventure
doesn't mean you can write.
It takes more than a simple narrative of a daily motorbike schedule to make
an interesting tale. Seems basic, no? But apparently this simple
fact is not widely understood.
There's an entire genre of collecting devoted to travel books, and let me
tell you, some fantastic books have been written over the years -- books
that stand the test of time. Aspiring travel
authors should do some serious research and study to discover this world,
long before they swing a leg over a saddle.
A National Geographic article entitled "Ultimate Travel Library" probably
says it best:
"It's just a book, just ink on paper. But be careful when you open it.
There's a universe inside. A good travel book has wings and the ability to
transport us, word by word, tale by tale. It introduces us to the
people and places that make travel—and, one could argue, life
itself—worthwhile. Good travel stories are, in a word, magic.
Not only do they show us the world, they help us define our place within
OK, I think I've made my point.
Now I'm not saying that Sam Manicom is the
equivalent of, say, a Lawrence Durrell or George
Orwell (yes, that Lawrence Durrell and that George
Orwell); Isak Dinesen or Beryl Markham.
Sorry Sam, but I do see a lot of Richard
Halliburton in these books, and that's a good thing.
Halliburton is one of my all-time favorites, and I
credit him with opening my then-youthful eyes to the
fact that there's a big, wide, exciting world out
there, just waiting to be discovered.
Now Manicom's writing could have gone either
way. I've read more than one motorcycle
adventure book that follows the standard practice:
1) Author quits the day job. 2) Author
buys a bike. 3) Author takes off on a trip,
assuming they're the only ones to ever do so.
And 4) Author assumes that everyone will be
interested in a bound version of their diary.
If that's all there was to it, heck -- even I'd give
it a try.
But as much as I can tell you
what not to do in a motorcycle travel book --
or any travel book, for that matter -- it's much
harder to put my finger on exactly what should be
done. There's a subtle difference; a smoky line
that's crossed somewhere that turns a boring diary into an
edge-of-the-chair adventure yarn, and Manicom has
done it in these two books.
If pressed, I'd say that to be
successful, a travel book surely must go beyond a
simple narrative to imbue the reader with the
history, the culture and the mood of the place in
addition to its sights, sounds and smells. Yet
the author has only words to convey all of this -- a
most difficult task.
Sam Manicom did leave his boring
job on the isle of Jersey, bought his motorcycle and
pretty much began his motorcycling and authoring
career as a novice. It could easily be argued
that this was a naive and possibly even a foolish
thing to do, but Manicom's light-hearted and
typically British understated tone allows the reader
to quickly forgive.
He spent the next 8 years and
200,000 miles touring 55 countries in Africa,
Australia and Asia on his trusty BMW R80GS (the
perfect world touring bike?) and Into Africa
and Under Asian Skies was the result.
It didn't take very long at all for the words to
carry me from reluctance to ravening after I
Along the way, Manicom experienced
just about every travel cliché and faux pas
you can think of, up to and including the worst-case
scenario -- a serious accident involving another
person, out in the middle of nowhere. He was
very lucky even to be alive, much less shrug it off
and continue on.
You'd think that would be enough
adventure for a couple of lifetimes, but after
reaching the southern tip of Africa, Manicom decided
on a whim to hop a freighter to Australia for more
adventure, when the BMW finally gave up. While
the bike was in for repairs, he made a side trip to
New Zealand, meeting a woman and falling in love.
In Under Asian Skies, the
adventure continues, through Thailand, where he
contracts dengue fever and is saved by a prostitute
who hopes to save enough money to go to school.
Many more adventures in India and then back home,
through Iran and Turkey.
You won't learn much about
motorcycles, nor will you gain the insight needed
for launching a trip like this. But perhaps
that's what makes the difference, because that kind
of information would, in the end, make this a boring
read. Instead, you will be treated to
adventures that the vast majority will never
experience, and you'll learn a lot about this tiny
planet we inhabit. And that's what makes an
adventure tale worth reading.
"Flaming Helmet" Book
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