Friday, November 30, 2012

BC2012: Smile When You're Lying by Chuck Thompson

I bought this book for the second time at Half Price Books in Highland Park last month. The first time was during the Borders bankruptcy, but I never got a chance to read that copy. On Moose's third day in our house, he tore up the blinds in the library and knocked over hundreds of unread books. Then, for the coup de grace, he lifted his leg and soaked a dozen of them, including Smile When You're Lying. So for the past four months I've been on a mission to replace them, picking them off one by one, Munich-like. I decided not to count them as part of Book Challenge 2012 since I already owned the original copies at the start of 2012. Though it was annoying to have to buy those books again, I can take some pride in spending even less on them the second time around than I did the first.

Travel writer Thompson's memoir was worth buying twice because I really enjoyed it. He rips on the lameness of most travel writing, which is indeed cloying and terribly written. For example, he hates when anything other than food is described as tasty or delicious. I wish he had included more of this criticism in the book. I also wish there had been more advice since what he offers is great (he notes that a lot of "savvy traveler" advice is bullshit, too, including such novel suggestions as looking on the Internet for lower fares).

Thompson describes how tourism took over his hometown of Juneau, AK, how schoolgirls ripped him off in Thailand (no, he was not trying to procure sex), what it was like teaching English in Japan in the late 1980s, and why he hates the Caribbean. I found the chapter about the Philippines particularly enlightening. I would recommend Smile When You're Lying to anyone who enjoys good travel stories without the advertiser-conscious sugar-coating, even an armchair traveler like me who's never been out of the U.S. Thompson also has written two books about the best World War II sites, one for Europe and the other for the Pacific. If I planned to visit those regions, I'd probably buy them.

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