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Pecked To Death By Ducks (2003)

Pecked To Death By Ducks (2003)

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3.86 of 5 Votes: 1
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0552771600 (ISBN13: 9780552771603)
black swan

About book Pecked To Death By Ducks (2003)

It took me forever to finish this book -- and I can't really figure out why. I like it, it's interesting, funny, and well-written. It just failed to... capture me. I suspect that I'm not terribly familar with personalities like TC's. When I read travel memoirs, they're usually more Bill Bryson-esque -- inept people falling over logs -- or Tony Horwitz-esque -- passionate intellectual dorks mixing humor and social commentary.In contrast, I suspect TC has a beard. An unironic beard. I suspect everyone he hangs out with has unironic beards also. He probably goes to gritty bars in small towns in Mexcio where the bartender knows him by name. He drinks from shot glasses whatever Ernest Hemingway would have drunk. He was in Wherever, Third World just after the revolution. He was on the last steamboat out of Wherever just before the revolution started. He probably knows how to smoke, not because he's a smoker but because it's one of those things men like him just know how to do.I think he's probably an old school conservationist -- the kind who know how to gut things and who want to save the natural world so they can continue to be rugged out on it. (As opposed to the sort I'm more familiar with -- 22 year old women with lower back tatoos who want to swim with the dolphins.) If TC has a tatoo, I suspect it's green.In short, so much unironic manliness was a bit like taking a shot of testosterone straight to the head. Made me wonder if I should stop reading to scratch. The irony is that sometimes TC thinks he is Bill Bryson. He knows guys much tougher than he is and so in comparison he feels like the one falling off logs. He's the writer who can climb a mountain rather than a mountain climber. So there's this weird self-aware / lack of self-awareness thing going on -- "Oh yes, I'm writing in this tough manly tradition. Oh but I'm subverting the tradition by not being tough and manly. Oh but see how tough and manly I am because I do it all anyway."Which brings me back around to the fact that it is a good collection, just maybe from a world I don't know much about. The piece on the llamas alone is worth giving it shelf space. But I'm pretty sure Tim Cahill and I don't travel the same way, go the same places, or do any of the same things when we get there.

Pecked To Death By Ducks, Tim Cahill's third collection of travel essays, is an interesting, if uneven read. Cahill is well travelled - the book contains stories about places ranging from the South Pacific to Europe to Central America to Antarctica to the wilds of America. He is also an avid climbing and caver, and many of his stories provide a look at activities I know little about. However, like many collections of essays, especially collections by the same author, Pecked To Death By Ducks suffers from mediocrity. Cahill is a fine writer, and some of the essays - I'm thinking about the first essay "Kuwait Is Burning: A Postcard from the Apocalypse" in particular - are absolutely fantastic, but not everything a writer produces can be his best work, and many of the other essays are merely decent at best or are badly dated. Pecked To Death By Ducks is best read bit-by-bit, one or two essays a week, instead of reading straight through.

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This book has a number of pros and a number of cons. My opinion flip flopped from good to bad as I read through the 300 or so pages. I eventually settled on a Do Not Read...although there were many parts I really it's a very tentative Do Not Read. In other words, I might recommend it to a specific person but not to everyone I know.The title is what initially drew me in. Pecked to Death by Ducks - that sounds funny. Then I noticed a comment on the cover comparing Cahill's writing to Anthony Bourdain and P.J. O'Rourke. I was in the mood for a snarky, wit filled, pithy travel log. The book's prologue is an explanation of the title where Cahill suggests he has a great sense of humour and that is why his books have such funny titles. Great, a humour book..or in this case, my first expectation shot down.The first chapter is intense. Very well written, not in a funny way, but in a shocking way that pulls you right in. Cahill describes a trip to Kuwait post Iraq war. Dead bodies, eerily quiet abandoned beachside resorts, and the flaming hells of the oil fires. It's a scene out of the apocalypse. What a great start to the book. A five star rating...but, that chapter soon ended and the book never made it back to that level.Many many more stories followed. From quick snippets of Cahill's trips to strange and exotic South Pacific islands to mundane accounts of his local travels through Montana. A handful of his travel accounts were interesting, but, the majority were mediocre and bland. Perhaps it was because I don't rock climb or take part in 'rope work' (there were more than a few chapters dealing with his mountain climbing or cave dropping) that I lost interest rather quickly.The humour and wit that was advertised on the book's cover was non existent from what I could tell. The few attempts at sarcasm, witty references, or jokes fell flat (like my souffles or Flat Stanley). I was very disappointed because my expectations were for a funny travel journal
—Bookworm Smith

Tim Cahill is a guy lucky enough to be sent out into various parts of the world, experience outdoorsy types of activities (usually with some level of danger) & get paid to write about it.The book is divided into sections called "The Unnatural World", "Tooth & Claw", "The Natural World", "Other People's Lives" and "Risk" -- giving the reader a good overview of his travels & experiences. Cahill is an adrenaline junkie - several of the essays revolve around rock climbing/rope work, but he also travels to Burma to observe religious rituals/demonic possession, and to Tonga to explore the conservation efforts for the giant clam. It was kind of eerie to be reading about the burning Kuwaiti oil fields on the day Saddam was executed. The dates range from 1978 to the early 1990's (publish date 1993). Recommended to those interested in unusual travel/adventure activities told from a very personal point of view. He's not as funny as Bill Bryson, or as contemplative as Douglas Adams in Last Chance to See, but I was reminded of them both.

In fairness, I only read a few stories in this book. It's a collection of short stories from all over the world, the author present in all of them. The stories are fine but I can't seem to get into it. Perhaps I'm simply in novel mode right now. The stories are adventures, for the most part. The broad categories in the book, per the contents page, are: The Unnatural World, Tooth and claw, The Natural World, Other People's Lives, Risk. I'm ready to move on to a novel and am passing this book along to a relative. I believe some of you would enjoy this more than I am at present, and that I might enjoy it more at another time.

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