Friday, September 12, 2003

The United Burger States of America by Peter Biddlecombe

Up till this book I would have unhesitatingly recommended Peter Biddlecomb, on the strength of the other four books of his I've read (Travels With My Briefcase, French Lessons in Africa, A Nice Time Being Had By All, and Very Funny, Now Change Me Back Again). He writes of his travels, and as a representative of a British commercial bank he has had to work in a great many different cities. He claims that the true traveler is the business traveler. The vacationer can pick and chose, but the business traveler has to immerse himself in the local culture enough to communicate and deal with the local businessmen. Marco Polo was, after all, a business traveler, not an adventurer.

In the earlier books Peter wrote of his own experiences, often exaggerating or combining events for a better story. And they are good travel stories. By all means go read one of them.

But Burger States isn't mainly about his adventures, but is mostly his impressions and tall tales, with the occasional bitter screed tucked in here and there. The tailor should stick to his last, and Biddlecombe should tell his own stories.

He tried to classify the various states by food, with salad states and cheese states and burger states, etc; which is a nice idea but not well developed.

I could not finish the book. When Franklin wrote to his European audience of the grand spectacle of whales leaping up Niagara, he thought it was a hoot; but it has always struck me as too dumb to be funny. Likewise this book... Maybe Biddlecombe was trying to be a new Dave Barry? If so, he missed badly.

There are a few good spots and a few accurate lines. When visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani (Peter says he is a Thomas Merton fan!) he writes "I've never known so many Americans keep so quiet for so long." (For those not familiar, the Abbey is Trappist, and Trappist monks keep a vow of silence.) But in the end I didn't think it worth my time to finish the book, and I doubt you will either. A pity. Go read one of his others.

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