(The original cover from 2011)It was not in fact based on blog entries, as the occasional reviewer has said, but in fact on 2000-word stories that I put on dedicated pages on my original English Teacher X website back in 2003, the (pretty embarrasing) remains of which can still be seen there. The stories did get quite a bit of much-needed editing in 2011, though, and a fair bit of stuff was added -- especially in the chapters about Prague, and of course the story about me spraining the kid's arm in class in Phuket.
It has always been the book that I'm least satisfied with, in general -- at 50,000 words it just seems too short to accurately reflect those five years of my life. (To that end I went back and added a couple of chapters last year -- the part about my mentor in Bangkok and a lengthy description of Nana Plaza.)
In addition I felt like the voice of it was not really very distinct -- not sure whether it was light and David Sedaris-like or dark and edgy and Bukowskian.
Also, as reviewers like Matt Forney pointed out -- it's not really a novel, it's just a collection of stories. They're in chronological order, more or less, but you can see the cracks -- the part about Korea has three different stories ending with me about to leave Korea.
I wanted to chop all the stories up into small bits and rearrange them -- as I pretty much did with VODKABERG -- but I was in a rush to get it published just to see what would happen, and the editor liked the book a great deal as it was.
There's a lot of telling rather than showing there, also -- plenty of inner monologues and rationalizations -- and some dorky narrative tricks like referring to myself in the third person. (I wanted to cut all of those out but the editor kind of liked them. I believe all or most of these stories were written before I'd ever heard of Tucker Max so I wasn't emulating him in that aspect. I'm not sure where I picked that up.)
But all in all I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. There are some entertainingly lurid (if perhaps a bit overblown) descriptions -- I thought the part where I was projectile vomiting on a rooftop in Bangkok was especially evocative -- and lines like "the sky was aflame like an infected asscrack" leap cheerfully off the page. It is definitely the voice of a young X -- energetic and observant, but of course not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. You can see the writer's voice developing in the book -- the part "Two Hairy Months in Bangkok" where Q comes to visit -- that was more a foreshadowing of the way I wanted to write, and did write, in VODKABERG.
Another plus is that the book is tightly focused on the main things I wanted to write about -- the shitty schools, the wacky teachers, and the English groupies in the various pre-Internet, largely pre-globalism cities of Asia and Eastern Europe. Not much flab, and it really zips right along -- I finished it in a couple of hours.
And another reason I found it interesting -- as a period piece. I mean, it was damn near 20 years ago. As one reviewer said -- "a time before the internet when home wasn't just an email away." The prices kind of amuse in retrospect -- sub-$100 apartments in Prague and Bangkok, for example. I fly from Istanbul to Bangkok round trip for $400 at one point, and mention a $4 cup of coffee in Seoul in a way suggesting it was terribly expensive.
So I can safely say it's a funny brisk little read, and although I feel like it could be better, if I changed it it also probably wouldn't be as light and funny and brisk anymore.
I might experiment with re-writing it, or at least adding some stuff, as there's a lot more to say, but I suspect I'll just leave it be. Books take on kind of a life of their own after you write them -- maybe they're not quite what you imagined them to be, but they definitely take on an identity and, like children, don't deserve to be chopped up and put back together again just because they're not quite what you had wanted.
You can read some other bloggers' reviews of TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY at these links:
Review on 30 DAYS TO X / Review on HOT PINK PASSPORT (!)
Review on MATTFORNEY / Review on ROOSHV
Review on USINGENGLISH / Review on DOYOUSPEAKPOLISH
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