Monday, January 14, 2013

A Randy & Random View of the Planet

RANDOM ACTS OF TRAVEL: Featuring Trepidation, Hammocks and Spitting,  by Dean Johnston
REVIEW BY ANNE CARLISLE
Like the man says in his title, this book is random. It has no obvious pattern of organization and  no unifying style outside relentless wise-cracking as Johnston shares a compilation of observations gathered from his wanderings around the planet for twelve years. Instead, the book resembles a series of essays that might appear in, say, Mad Magazine or Playboy.

It is long on pages and short on  substantial/ sophisticated coverage of travel basics (like cities).  But, first and foremost, the book is  terrifically, almost fiendishly, funny. I often laughed out loud, though  I sometimes wished he'd drop the banter and write something that would make me want to pack my bag. There are moments when the descriptions really take you there (for better or worse)--on the Ilala ferry in Malawi, for instance.

The author falls into two questionable practices: one that an English professor of mine called the "imitative fallacy," where the writer  twists  the style to mimic what's going on in the material. The other is an annoying tendency to talk up his sleeve. The  "best and worst of___"  lists are some of the worst offenders in this regard. The material is riffy and arcane rather than entertaining and useful.

Bottom line, if you're put off by scatalogical, randy, punsterish, puckish, and sometimes tortuous prose, this isn't the book for you; there are lots of polite, densely detailed travel guides you'd prefer. But, if you're a fan of Dave Barry, and/or your idea of great travel is a knapsack and making do with rice krispies or kicking back in Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala (Ultimate Travel Experience #6) , you'll probably want to check out this book.  Johnston  writes he and his wife  travel in spite of the food, not for the food, and in this case, he's not kidding.  "Snickers, everywhere," he advises.