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Books & Music pt 2

How Not To Live Abroad by Shaun Riley


Why I liked it: I think it's fairly obvious why this book caught my eye. Living abroad? Check. Spain? Check. Witty writing? Check. (I am just joking about that last part!!) Anyway, the title is catchy and it looked like an easy read and knowing that I won't be able to visit Spain until my jail sentence is over for the next 15+ years, why not live vicariously through other people, who do have the time to travel AND write about it extensively (totally no sarcastic undertones here). In this travel memoir the author Shaun Briley and his British girlfriend escape their living quarters in London, which they share with her mother (!) to vacation in Spain and in a fit of what can only be called "typically clueless behavior from teenagers in their twenties" buy a house in the dry deserted countryside of southern Spain (Andalusia). Why is it deserted? Because more and more Spaniards think living without indoor plumbing or electricity in the middle of nowhere with no money to make is no way to live, but our heroes, they are blinded by their dreams of "living off the land" and so they find themselves in a dark house (no light!) stinky and sweaty (no water!) and having to pee (no toilet!). Despite this somewhat tediously sounding premise, the book is very enjoyable, because Riley is a very funny writer. Having lived in Spain, it made me revisit familiar situations and the promise of virtual travel was fulfilled. The south of Spain has a particular reputation and very peculiar idiosyncracies... The same way you will have a certain idea when someone is described as "from the South" in the US, you will also understand "Andalusian" as more than just a geographical indicator. What really makes this book work though is Riley's capability for introspection, which gives it a dimension without sounding trite and kitschy. His relationship is doomed, he doesn't know what to do with his life and this whole Spanish adventure really drives this point home. He is successful at balancing the serious with the comical and absurd, add to that the Spanish flavor and you have a few fun hours in front of you.

Why you should get it: I don't know. It's funny, you'll laugh. It's a fast read and will not upset you in any way. You will find out about Spain and also about the life of unrealistic people. You'll laugh.

Why you should not get it: I have to admit I probably would not have enjoyed the book as much had it been set in France or Kazakhstan, so maybe the story won't work for you if you've never been to Spain. If you find people talking about their lives annoying and a waste of your time, it won't work for you either. Also, if you've never tried to grow and sell olives for a living you might not be able to relate. At some point in the book they get a dog, so I guess it has puppies and who doesn't like a puppy?

Posted at 10:20 AM on August 23, 2006

I probably will not relate to the living in Spain thing, but I wonder if I would relate to the off-grid fun thing.

Posted by Pansy Moss at August 25, 2006 10:29 AM

I have a hard time selecting reading material at the library. So much out there is stuff that wouldn't interest or would likely offend me (I guess I'm too narrowminded AND sensitive!). Anyway, I love reading your reviews, and I particularly like the "whys and why nots." Thank you, Dinka! I think I might try this one, and if I do I will let you know whether a born-and-bred-American-who's-never-been-abroad can enjoy or relate to it. I think it sounds interesting!

Oh, and I like your music reviews for the same reason. I listened to Stevie Wonder because of you! :D

Posted by Lindsey at August 25, 2006 11:18 AM