Home » stevereads

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

By (October 3, 2015) No Comment

do travel writers go to hellOur book today, a winner of a thing by Thomas Kohnstamm from 2008, asks the always-pertinent question, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? – and like almost all books with questions in the title, the answer is obvious.

The book follows Kohnstamm on his transformation from an ordinary white-collar worker – with a steady girlfriend, an office-job income, and a Manhattan apartment – to an itinerant professional freelance travel-writer whose more poetic or sensitive appreciations of his far-flung destinations are now a bit circumscribed by the dictates of the parent company:

Lonely Planet would like 20 percent of the coverage going to budget, 60 percent to midrange, and 20 percent top-end. I also need to keep I mind what a solo female traveler would want, what a disabled traveler would want, what a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender traveler would want, what a vegetarian or vegan would want, and I need to be sensitive to not write with a particularly American point of view. The company does not think that this will dilute the content or voice of the book.

He travels over large swaths of South America, meets a great many vivid individuals, and has a great many seedy, over-the-top adventures. He tells his readers at the beginning of his book that he’s not intending to write an expose of the travel-writing industry, and in part he’s right, since the stories in his book are ultimately too affectionate to have the sting of a real tell-all. But he’s nevertheless writing a book very much at odds with the more stereotypical travel-writing accounts that are so full of picturesque local color and harmless local anecdotes. As he and his girlfriend Meg quickly discover during one excursion, picturesque is just the lure most places use to get you there, after which they set to work disillusioning lucy reads do travel writers go to hellyou:

We arrived in Fortaleza with the idealistic notions of young students who were busy reading Cervantes, Borges, and Neruda, paired with the history and rhetoric of Castro, Allende, and Guevara. We were fully open to spontaneity and planned to sleep on the beaches and take in the culture of pan-American understanding and camaraderie. When we arrived in Fortaleza, we found that no one could follow our Portu-no and that it was nearly impossible to find an ATM or change traveler’s checks. Our dreams of sleeping on peaceful tropical beaches were overshadowed by the faint glow of a McDonald’s sign as rats scurried past and crews of adolescents roamed the sand looking for aluminum cans.

And yet, unaccountably (or accounted for only by Kohnstamm’s wonderfully energetic prose), by the end of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell there IS a kind of picturesque local allure creeping in around the edges of these pages. The book is a necessary corrective to the kind of enticingly rosy picture conveyed by the glossy travel magazines, but it ends up enticing just the same, in its seedy way.

Home » stevereads

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

By (October 3, 2015) No Comment

do travel writers go to hellOur book today, a winner of a thing by Thomas Kohnstamm from 2008, asks the always-pertinent question, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? – and like almost all books with questions in the title, the answer is obvious.

The book follows Kohnstamm on his transformation from an ordinary white-collar worker – with a steady girlfriend, an office-job income, and a Manhattan apartment – to an itinerant professional freelance travel-writer whose more poetic or sensitive appreciations of his far-flung destinations are now a bit circumscribed by the dictates of the parent company:

Lonely Planet would like 20 percent of the coverage going to budget, 60 percent to midrange, and 20 percent top-end. I also need to keep I mind what a solo female traveler would want, what a disabled traveler would want, what a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender traveler would want, what a vegetarian or vegan would want, and I need to be sensitive to not write with a particularly American point of view. The company does not think that this will dilute the content or voice of the book.

He travels over large swaths of South America, meets a great many vivid individuals, and has a great many seedy, over-the-top adventures. He tells his readers at the beginning of his book that he’s not intending to write an expose of the travel-writing industry, and in part he’s right, since the stories in his book are ultimately too affectionate to have the sting of a real tell-all. But he’s nevertheless writing a book very much at odds with the more stereotypical travel-writing accounts that are so full of picturesque local color and harmless local anecdotes. As he and his girlfriend Meg quickly discover during one excursion, picturesque is just the lure most places use to get you there, after which they set to work disillusioning lucy reads do travel writers go to hellyou:

We arrived in Fortaleza with the idealistic notions of young students who were busy reading Cervantes, Borges, and Neruda, paired with the history and rhetoric of Castro, Allende, and Guevara. We were fully open to spontaneity and planned to sleep on the beaches and take in the culture of pan-American understanding and camaraderie. When we arrived in Fortaleza, we found that no one could follow our Portu-no and that it was nearly impossible to find an ATM or change traveler’s checks. Our dreams of sleeping on peaceful tropical beaches were overshadowed by the faint glow of a McDonald’s sign as rats scurried past and crews of adolescents roamed the sand looking for aluminum cans.

And yet, unaccountably (or accounted for only by Kohnstamm’s wonderfully energetic prose), by the end of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell there IS a kind of picturesque local allure creeping in around the edges of these pages. The book is a necessary corrective to the kind of enticingly rosy picture conveyed by the glossy travel magazines, but it ends up enticing just the same, in its seedy way.