You Are A Tourist, I Am A Traveller

Empty caveat: This post contains criticism of books I haven’t read. I know, right?

Cassie has recently been reading a couple of books recommended by her book club which got her very annoyed. I could tell she was annoyed because she would be reading in bed next to me, then suddenly exclaim something rude, drop the book on the floor and switch the light out.

The first book was The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, and it sounds insufferable to me, just from Shriver’s own description of herself. Grammar snob, “look at me I live in London and know what snooker is”. Drawn-out descriptions of fancy cooking just for the sake of it. The takeaway message? I AM BETTER THAN YOU.

The second book was Grounded, by Seth Stevenson, in which the author and his girlfriend go round the world using only ground transport like ships. A nice idea; Michael Palin made a gentle TV show from it late last century. But it would appear that Herr Stevenson is ALSO BETTER THAN YOU, because not only does he travel this way and write about it, he suggests frequently throughout that people who travel by air are not worthy to see the rest of the world and sample its cultures and cuisines. There is a drawback to travelling by tramp steamer across the Pacific, and that is the very long journey times and lack of entertainment (not to mention the danger of press gangs and – or is that not? No? OK then). But for most of you, this wouldn’t be a problem because your slovenly ape-brains don’t get bored by long stretches of time; they are too busy being amazed by the reality of a metal ship that floats. You’ve got it lucky, because Stevenson’s girlfriend, who is better than him and therefore WAY BETTER THAN YOU, is almost driven insane, her finely-tuned homo superior grey matter shrivelling away at the lack of stimulation.

On their travels they do the usual “authentic” travel experience, with exotic sweetmeats and bizarre (bazaar?) toilet arrangements ramming home how foreign the world can be, how safe your life is, and how exciting life can be when you leave the herdflock behind.

Both Stevenson and Shriver suffer from the kind of snobbery which suggests that one thing is “real”, while another thing, despite existing, is not. This idea is something that has bugged me for a while now, and a lot of my little bugbears can be traced to the suggestion that something I do or enjoy is not “real”. Music, film, coffee, bicycling. I must write something more substantial about this.

Meanwhile, I’m reading A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, which is worrying close to Pr@tchett, but a bit darker. Cassie gave me it for my birthday, and it’s set in San Francisco, and so far it’s pretty good. After Junky and Cloud Atlas something lighter was required.

Of course, being a newcomer to the city, I’m going through that phase of being attracted to media that mentions or contains my new home. I found that irksome when I shared a house in Marlow with some Hounslow girls, who were always surprised at seeing London on the TV. The Princess Diaries is set here, as well as bits of Star Trek. Now that’s real entertainment.