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Book Review: Backpacking With Brian

by David DeFranza Mar 31, 2009
Matador Contributor David DeFranza gives a raw, honest review of this travel journal-turned-paperback.

This review will not begin with a description of the book’s cover, the title page, or the table of contents, and it will not end with an evaluation of the index.

I will not start by telling you I received the envelope in the mail and I will not end by illustrating the room from which I now type. This would be tantamount to beginning a travel narrative with the plane’s takeoff and finishing with a description of returning home.

Avoiding this kind of narrative arc is a classic first lesson of travel writing, one that the author of Backpacking with Brian has unfortunately not learned.

Instead of telling you about how the book was packaged for mailing, I will begin with a question: What is the value of a travel journal?

We know that keeping a journal while traveling is important. Documenting the details of your trip, from the clothing of people you see to the food you eat for each meal, allows you to relive the experience years later.

By writing your thoughts you can gain perspective. It creates an opportunity for otherwise obscured connections to arise. Beyond helping you remember your travels, a journal helps you understand them.

So, if it is important to keep a journal, what do we do with these personal tomes once they are completed?

The first impulse, I believe, is to share it with others. Lending your journal to family and close friends is one way. Using it to tell stories at the pub is another. You can put it online.

You can even use it as an archive of information that could be transformed into more polished articles and narratives. You could also publish the journal in whole and, if an editor takes an interest, join the ranks of some great authors.

If an editor does not take an interest, there is the option of self-publishing, and it is this that finally brings us back to Bryn Parry’s Backpacking with Brian.

The journal of Parry’s travels through Europe is intriguing mostly for all it does wrong. It begins with a trip on a bus from the author’s hometown and takes us, hour by hour, day by day, through the rest of the journey.

It lacks real character development in a way that, at the end of the 319 pages, we are left still wondering who Brian even is.

It suffers from awkward and elliptical writing…”the inverted image which I was thereby treated to was of the salivating jaws of a ‘highly conditioned’ Jack Russell Terrier.”

The manuscript uses non-standard formatting, misuses quotations to the point of confusing the story, and has an overabundance of ellipses “I NEEDED a treat (of the highly sugar-rich, comfort-fodder kind)!…….”

That said, there is much to admire.

The simple fact that Parry got the story, all 300-plus pages of it, onto paper is certainly one. The way he portrays himself in the narrative is honest and self-effacing in a way that is reminiscent of Bill Bryson’s at his best. The one-sided correspondences with Cathy, a love left at home, are tender and the highlight of every chapter in which they appear.

If you find yourself ripping through online travel journals and wishing you could take one along when away from the computer, Backpacking with Brian will be a quirky delight. It is, perhaps by virtue of the text’s raw nature, an intensely personal account.

It may not illuminate new corners of Europe, or win a great award, but it does give the reader the feeling that the author, a close friend, has invited her to read his personal journal.

For what it’s worth, I am grateful.

Thank you Bryn, keep writing.

Price: $17.99 | BUY

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