When in Manila, watch out for the coming of Bill Bryson. The Flips Flipping Pages, an online book club that meets face-to-face every month to rant and rave about books, has issued a challenge to the best-selling American author:
Travel to the Philippines and sample its delights and peculiarities.
The challenge came about during the group’s latest discussion, which was about Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe. In keeping with the travel theme, the group decided to meet out of the city and hold the discussion in Nasugbu, a resort town in Batangas south of Metro Manila.
Here’s the book description from audible.com. To add a twist, book moderator Jan Ruiz made the Flippers (as the book club members are called) to listen to an audio book narrated by Bryson himself.
“In Neither Here Nor There, Bryson brings his unique brand of humor to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hammerfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to Istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before. Whether braving the homicidal motorists of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.”
In the early seventies, Bill Bryson backpacked with his buddy across Europe, two youths seeking adventure, beer and women. Twenty years later, he retraced that journey on his own and had an altogether different experience. His account was affectionate though peppered with riotously funny commentaries. He dished out vitriol over rampant commercialism of historic sites with exuberant praises over unexpected wonders.
His journey began in Norway and stopped short of Asia. He had been four months travelling and was homesick. The Flippers wondered what Bryson would write about the Philippines if he had reached its shores (of any of the archipelago’s 7,101 islands). Would he rant or would he rave? How would Filipinos react if Bryson were too frank or took some creative license to describe things? The uproar over a cartoonist’s political satire over lesbianism and a certain all-girls school and the Gates of Hell label for Manila by a historical thriller author come to mind.
Here’s a screenshot of an online conversation about it.
Clearly, this book club has a high regard for its country’s charms. But would the country be ready for the particular charms of Bryson? One Flipper remarked that, anyway, Bryson might be too old by now to travel anywhere, much less the Philippines.
For better or worse, the Flippers have issued its challenge to Bryson. We shall see if he takes it up, and whether the Philippines can take what he will dish out.
When in Manila, you never know.
Bill Bryson is a best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and science. In Neither Here Nor There, the humor was irreverent, sometimes caustic as the author shared his observations and experiences of people and places across Europe. There are glimpses of grandness and tastes of blandness. Sometimes, the author judged people based on stereotypes and other times he made very insightful observations about them. Overall, a very entertaining read that might just awaken the wanderlust in you.
A sample of Bryson’s prose
“St. Peter doesn’t look all that fabulous from the outside, at least not from the piazza on its foot, but step inside and it is so sensational that your mouth falls open. St. Peter is a marvel, so vast and beautiful and cool and filled with treasures and airy heights and pale beams of heavenly light that you don’t know where to place your gaze. It is the only building I have ever entered where I have actually felt like sinking to my knees, clasping my hands heavenward, and crying: ”Take me home, Lord.” No structure on earth would ever look the same to me again.” – Bill Bryson on seeing St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time
Book discussion moderator Jan observed that Bryson tells you what he likes, and what he doesn’t. She said that he’s effusive in praise for places that exceed his expectations, but also quite frank about the ugliness of a place. She asked: Do you think he was honest to a fault?
The Northern Lights Moment
Some readers criticized Bryson for being too critical. At least one Flipper agreed, commenting that he found Bryson “pompous, whiny, and overbearing.” Majority of the Flippers though found the book enjoyable. The consensus was Bryson balances the rants with effusive praises when he falls in love with a place or its people.
“He always look for the Northern Lights Moment,” Darwin Reyes, a medical professional, said. “He doesn’t bring one bad experience to another place,” added Blooey Singson, a book blogger.
The Northern Lights Moment was a turning point found at the beginning of Bryson’s travels. He was in Hammerfest, northernmost town in Europe, to wait for the elusive lights. He waited 16 long and cold days, until when he was about to give up, he was rewarded by a spectacular nocturnal lights show. According to Gege Sugue, a communications training professional and the founder of Flips Flipping Pages, this first leg of the journey set the tone—“He wasn’t there to be a tourist. He was there as a traveler. He did not let tour schedule dictate his itinerary.”
Bookish and travel-themed loot
International-themed feast for the bookish, from Grilled Squid and Vietnamese dish Chaca La Vong to Potato Salad with Deviled Eggs and Pasta Putanesca
Lafang, Hilata and Bookish Weekend!
“There isn’t any place that’s not worth going to.” – Bill Bryson
You might also want to read https://www.wheninmanila.com/what-sort-of-things-happen-in-a-book-club.
Thanks to Jan Ruiz for the photos. Photo of St. Basilica with free-use license was taken from Wikipedia.
Flippers Challenge Bestselling Author Bill Bryson to Travel to the Philippines