Smile When You're Lying

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Smile When You’re Lying, by Chuck Thompson

I didn't want to admit reading this book, but it’s not very honest to omit less-than-stellar books. I read it: here’s the review.

The author is a travel writer who was tired of sucking up to the various industries in travel, where everything is ‘breathtaking!’, ‘delicious!' and ‘an enticing mix of the old and new!’ So he wrote this book as an outlet for colorful stories like Shanghai Bob's exploits, muggings, and waking up in a pool of his own vomit. The biggest caveat of the book was that it was as descriptive of the Thai sex industry as you would expect an unregenerate, anti-Christian single man to be.

Still, it was funny. Right away, I pegged him as from the Pacific Northwest. He had that cranky, sunshine-deprived, angry liberal outlook on life that I remember from growing up in Oregon. Who else would say that by voluntarily paying taxes, even if you vote Democrat, you have Iraqi blood on your hands?

Chapter titles like "Is it okay to miss the Cold War? The philosophical dilemma of Eastern Europe" and "Why Latin America isn't the world's number one tourist destination and probably never will be" reveal the kind of humor to be found in this book. My honey kept reading me quotes and cracking up while I was trying to read a serious book, and it was very hard to concentrate while your spouse reads you excerpts like these (p. 100):

"American public school teachers have the world's best PR operation going. Whining every chance they get about how demanding their jobs are, how many "extra hours" they put in, how little they make, how much of their own money they have to spend just to do their jobs, how noble they are working this job that nobody ever asked them to do--welcome to the (expletive) world."

Thompson writes about the travel industry, hack travel writers, how he became a writer, destinations he should love but doesn't, and surprising locations that became his favorites. He is a funny (but crude) writer, and he has an excellent grasp of history. I learned several back stories to historical events I thought I knew. The book closed with an unexpected positive tone. As a general rule, Americans are the cleanest and most polite travellers you will ever meet, despite an international image that is otherwise ("Americans are the new Germans," page 301). Depending on how the supply of foreign oil concludes, we could be in the golden age of travel right now.

"You can take a week off work and be in Dakar or Tashkent or Borneo in less time than it took Ben Franklin to get from Boston to Philadelphia. Largely taken for granted, this revolutionary ability to go anywhere on a whim has altered our perception of the world in ways we probably don't fully comprehend. If that instant mobility is taken away, our worldview will be drastically reshaped again. The planet could once more become a forbidding place, expensive to see and scary to traverse, one that forces us to reexamine the basic lessons about the world collective that travel used to teach. This might not be a bad thing."


Nathan Garrett said...

It sounds very similar to the book you gave me for Christmas. An interesting, crude, and off-beat travel story...

Rachel said...

Oops, I didn't know the book I gave you was crude. Sorry!
Ummm, Merry Christmas?