Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Written for the Road...

Invoking Hunter S. Thompson is a risky proposition for young writers, who can be gulled into thinking that chemical intake and sketchy reporting are substitutes for the gonzo great’s keen insight and lacerating wit. Fortunately, although Kohnstamm plays the Thompson card on his first hand, documenting a monumental pub crawl with a coke buddy called “the Doctor,” he soon finds his own voice. Scratching a bite from the travel bug, Kohnstamm walks away from a Wall Street cubicle to accept a poorly paid, impossibly deadlined job updating the Lonely Planet guide to Brazil. Sharp writing and self-deprecating wit add spice to a chronicle of the sometimes absurd world of guidebook writing. (In one memorable scene, he gets thrown out of a hotel he is researching because he looks—accurately—too poor to stay there.) There’s food for thought, too, about Lonely Planet’s journey from backpacker tip sheet to faux-hobo itinerary and the aftereffects of the travel it promotes. Kohnstamm’s hedonism is heroic, but it’s his willingness to think about hedonism’s consequences that makes this worth reading.

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