Voyages in America: A Story of Homes Lost and Found by James Robinson, ISBN 9780692223659, ask your favourite bookshop to order or buy from Amazon.
When you encounter America for the first time it’s an odd experience. Our culture, despite our insistence on experiencing “overseas” mostly through the UK, is saturated with images, ideas and entertainment from America. It’s the country that has overwhelmed the world.
So when you arrive there for the first (or even second or third) time everything is at once intensely familiar and strangely foreign. After spending 6 months in the States in 1996, I remember having the vivid experience of watching The Simpsons back in NZ and thinking about how realistic it is. It is strange as a non-American to realise you have so many shared experiences with Americans, we know so much of their history and their stories, yet they know so few of ours.
It’s easy to be disdainful of America but when you go there it’s very, very hard not to fall in love.
James Robinson’s Voyages in America captures these contradictions and comforts almost perfectly. Voyages in America started life as a blog on Stuff before Robinson decided to turn his thoughtful musings into a book. He did a damn good job of raising the funds to publish on Kickstarter and has produced a very polished tome. Normally collections of previously published columns (as we used to call them) can have a stop-start tone, or a disjointedness but Robinson has avoided this by reworking his blog posts, ordering them around several themes and providing personal background and context to anchor his thoughts.
What results is a meditative reflection on the familiarity and “otherness” experience of travelling and living away from one’s home, and particularly in America, peppered with some insightful personal and cultural observations. Robinson is not just an observer but is a thinker too, addressing a number of stereotypes (both perpetuated by Americans and of Americans).
Testament to the popularity of the blog, Voyages in America is a good read, fun and moving in equal measure. Robinson has a ear for the absurd and maintains a healthy sense of humour throughout the book, never allowing it to be weighed down with cynicism.
Highly recommended reading for actual and armchair travellers and thinkers.