When it comes to sharp, observant essays and travel writing with a heavy dollop of humour, Bill Bryson stands head and shoulders above the pack – but if I had to pick a second place contender, Will Ferguson would definitely be the guy for the job.
I first encountered Ferguson when I was gifted a copy of Beyond Belfast for Christmas a few years ago (thanks Mom!). It’s also worth a read. It’s about hiking the Ulster Way in Northern Ireland and is brilliant and funny – and I was living in the UK at the time, so I especially appreciated it. The Globe & Mail did a great review when it first came out, which you can read here.
While I was knees-deep in Canadiana at the public library researching a pretty major history paper I have to write on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside for one of my courses, I came across this guy. And of course, in the interest of paper procrastination, I just had to read it.
I’m so very glad I did. If you could put The Morningside World of Stuart McLean and whatever the Canadian equivalent of Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Big Country (released in the US as I’m A Stranger Here Myself) into some sort of combination machine and blend them together, the result would probably come close to Canadian Pie. Chatelaine calls it a “laugh-out-loud travel read” and I’d have to agree.
When you go away from a place for awhile, like I did (I lived outside of Canada for over six years), it’s impossible not to return and see it through the lens of an outsider a little bit. Ferguson totally nails this feeling – and the result is a keenly observant, often very funny look at Canadian culture and what makes us tick. He gets stalked by cougars on Vancouver Island, muses on Canadians’ obsession with creating “big-ass objects by the highway” and generally appears to be having a very good time. I had a very good time reading it, too.