I’m currently working my way through a book called There’s No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled, a collection of travel essays from various authors. And it’s hilarious. Granted, not every chapter is a winner, but so far, the majority of them have left me laughing… or at least grinning like an idiot. It’s been a while since I’ve read a travelogue with a good sense of humor, so this has been a welcome change.
Several months ago, I did an article on a sampling of travel books. While I have continued to post short reviews on Goodreads, as well as posting my more highly recommended books on the Yes Travel website, I thought I’d take this opportunity to, once again, discuss what I’ve been reading recently.
First up, there’s No Sense of Direction by Eric Raff. Holy crap, this guy had one hell of an adventure. I truly, truly envy his trek across a ridiculous number of countries as he meets new friends, sees amazing sights, and has the time of his life. Unfortunately, the book itself is an absolute bore. So much of his trip plays out without a hitch (lucky him), and the few snags he does run into are mostly self-inflicted moments of stinginess. Two-thirds of the content could have been cut, and the tone/message of the book wouldn’t have changed at all. I simply didn’t need the excruciatingly detailed accounts of what were, for anyone not there at the time, mundane events.
Jill Dobbe’s Here We Are & There We Go, on the other hand, would have benefited by being two-thirds longer… or by being three separate books. She and her family spent ten years living in a handful of countries, and each one (each chapter, as it would be) comes across as an amazing experience. Well, the chapter on Mexico wasn’t very exciting. But Dobbe is refreshingly concise in her writing, skipping over the day-to-day routines but not shying away from some of the more personal and touching moments. I’m kind of torn about how I feel with this one. I rag on books all the time for being too wordy, but I really would have liked to get to know more about Dobbe’s life in these different places. One chapter per country isn’t nearly enough.
English Teacher X is another traveler whose writing isn’t relegated to just one country. I liked his other book, To Travel Hopelessly, though I found it hard to like him as a person. This particular book, How to Survive Living Abroad, makes his personality even harder to swallow. Here, he attempts to be a “self-help” coach of sorts, but most of his advice caters to the sleaziest of travelers. Even if that happens to be you, the humor grows stale very quickly, as X really only has two jokes that he repeats ad nauseam: that you’re going to unwittingly hire a transvestite hooker or that you’re going to get raped in the butt.
On a more respectable note: An American Teacher in Taiwan by Ken Berglund. His story is very similar to mine, right down to meeting his wife while teaching in Asia, so maybe I’m biased by saying that I loved his book. Berglund is brutally honest, sharing personal information about his ex-wife and Taiwanese in-laws that not even I would dare do. He’s also not afraid to talk about his teaching experiences, something I always appreciate, which makes his book a good resource for prospective teachers as well as a fun memoir overall. The blog-to-book conversion was a little sloppy, but if that doesn’t bother you, it’s worth a look.
The last travelogue I read was Catherine Howard’s Backpacked. I hate to end on a sour note, but this book was difficult to get through. Like Raff’s No Sense of Direction, she spends a lot of time getting hung up on details that don’t mean anything to the reader. The view was great. Got it. Let’s move on, please. Howard can be very funny, though, so she’s got that going for her. But this is countered by her tireless anxieties. She worries about everything and fills up pages and pages of herself justifying every action on a pampered “backpacking” trip that couldn’t possibly be any more uneventful. I actually had to give up halfway through, which I hate doing to an author. I mean, maybe there’s some great revelation or lesson learned at the end. Alas, I just couldn’t make it there.