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AA Gill Is Away by AA Gill (2002) 305 p.

This is another book I used to flick through during the endless tedious hours at my bookstore job. AA Gill is a British columnist, ostensibly a travel writer, but not the kind with a tagline at the end which says “the writer was a guest of X Travel.” Gill is as much a political and social writer as he is a travel writer, and this compendium of his columns for the Sunday Times ranges across topics from a Sudanese famine to the California pornography industry to one of the worst environmental disasters of all time – the drying up of the Aral Sea by Soviet agriculture. This one in particular struck me with its ending, because I’ve noticed at my current job how British journalism is typically incapable of wrapping up a story without some kind of neat ending:

A story like this, a story of such unremitting misery, ought to end with a candle of hope. There should be something to be done. Well, I’m sorry, but there isn’t. Plenty of better men with clipboards and white Land Cruisers have been here to put it back together again, but they’ve retreated, dumbfounded and defeated.

Gill is notorious for his scathing criticism and “rapier wit,” but in the prologue he says: “Like many writers who resort to humour, really, I want to be taken very, very seriously.” He succeeds at both, with a distinctive writing style that’s both funny and thought-provoking, and I definitely intend to buy his other books.

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February 2012