Like many of his generation, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe in the early seventiesin search of enlightenment, beer, and women. Twenty years later he decided to retrace the journey he undertook in the halcyon days of his youth. The result is Neither Here Nor There, an affectionate and riotously funny pilgrimage from the frozen wastes of Scandinavia to the chaotic tumult of Istanbul, with stops along the way in Europe's most diverting and historic locales.
After 20 years as a London-based reporter, American journalist Bryson ( The Mother Tongue ) set out to retrace a youthful European backpacking trip, from arctic Norway's northern lights to romantic Capri and the ``collective delirium'' of Istanbul. Descriptions of historic and artistic sights in the Continent's capitals are cursory; Bryson prefers lesser-known locales, whose peculiar flavor he skillfully conveys in anecdotes that don't scant the seamy side and often portray eccentric characters encountered during untoward adventures of the road. He enlivens the narrative with keen, sometimes acerbic observations of national quirks like the timed light switches in French hallways, but tends to strive too hard for comic effects, some in dubious taste. He also joins other travelers in deploring the growing hordes of peddlers who overrun major tourist meccas. (Feb.)