What I learned over the weekend.
The power of place.

I hope this one does.

The above is my not-so-witty reply to the title of today's book: Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

But of course, that is not true. If I'm going to waste time wishing that people go to hell, which just seems mean anyway, I'm going to start with bigger fish than this author Thomas Kohnstamm. Plus, there's any number of reasons why I should go to hell, so I guess I'm going to retreat into my own glass house now and hope no one out there's got any stones.

Travelwriters But anyway. The book is Do Travel Writers Go to Hell: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics & Professional Hedonism. It's by a Lonely Planet writer who's out to debunk the idea that travel writers visit all the destinations, hotels, and restaurants out there before they write about them, primarily because it would be very nearly impossible to do so, from a deadline and financial standpoint (he also points out that travel writers really aren't supposed to accept free meals or other perks from people they're evaluating, which is also nearly impossible). Is this so shocking? I rather assumed travel writers who wrote guidebooks were mainly popping in to a few places, doing internet searches on others, and making the rest up, but maybe that's just me. So I didn't find this book all that shocking from an ethical viewpoint. Who uses a guidebook except for the maps and a few general ideas of what to see anyway? Especially the Lonely Planet guides. They're nice to get a basic idea, but I can't imagine that the travelers who use LP don't know how to use the Internet to do their own hotel booking, etc. You know what I'm saying? I just don't think it's an older people crowd, like the Frommer's and Fodor's sets.

Actually, I wouldn't have minded a few more stories about the travel writing itself, or about Brazil, which is where Kohnstamm traveled for his first assignment. Instead, the book opens with Kohnstamm quitting his job in New York and then going on a bender with his friend "the Doctor." It's a little narrative that goes on for about twenty pages, but it feels a lot longer than that:

"I wish I could relate the exploits of the evening during and after the party, but the details are foggy. I know that we were at the party for many hours and I managed to avoid the Doctor and his girlfriend for most of it. I don't think that the cocaine lasted through the soiree loaded with stimulant-hungry Ivy League nostrils...I rarely black out, but I lost a few hours there. Eventually, somebody introduced Red Bull, which pulled me back out of the miasma. Now we have wound up in line at some pseudochic lounge/club in western SoHo, cleverly named after its numerical address.

Everybody has abandoned us. Were other people with us before? I am staring at the tips of my shoes trying to steady myself while finishing off the Red Bull. The Doctor, still with a vomit stain on his Hawaiian shirt, is talking to a guy he kind of know from LA who is working the door..." (pp. 42-43.)

And that's what the entire book is like, except in different countries. Every now and then there's a page about the writing life and/or Brazil, but certainly not enough to make this one interesting. If you want to read about frat boy sex and alcohol exploits, do yourself a favor and just get Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, which is much more honestly a book in which nothing happens except Max's zany (said ironically) sexual exploits in every chapter. If you want to read a real travel book, don't start with this one.