Smile when you're lying: confessions of a rogue travel writer
by Chuck Thompson. Holt, 2007.
It's unfortunate that the publisher placed the Kirkus Reviews quote that compared this Thompson to Hunter Thompson. Let's hope the tales Chuck spins are closer to what he remembers as the truth than was Hunter's inclination. To call these tales confessions is a stretch, except when it relates to the travel industry rather than the numerous stories of his wild youth, being stranded in Thailand, and various encounters in some of the hundreds of countries to which the author has visited, almost always on assignment and on someone else's dollar or Euro. They are the kind of stories I enjoyed hearing when I sat around a youth hostel or backpacker's hotel and shared advice, warnings, and past adventures. In the right company I will still tell some of them, even though they date back to the 1960's: being searched by the East German border guards, a trek in the jungle of Togo, being caught up in the beginning of the Nigerian civil war, encounter with a Haitian intelligence officer, gypsy women in Santiago, the kindness of drivers and hitchhiking, and so on. Without these kinds of stories, the book would have been a long article.
He was editor of the short-lived Travelocity magazine, and that post-mortem was quite illuminating. He has some pointers for us the consumer-traveler, and these generally make sense to me. I've been to about fifty countries and lived outside the continental U.S. for about six years. He is very hard on Lonely Planet (recently sold by Wheeler) and points out some interesting inconsistencies in the messages in the writings of Paul Theroux who criticizes certain practices in one book and reveals that he enjoys them in a later article.
Did Thompson burn all his travel journalism bridges with this book? Will he ever be invited by a tourist bureau or airline or hotel chain to write for them again? I guessed he saw what Anthony Bourdain did by writing Kitchen Confidential and parlaying it into speaking engagements, other books, and a cable TV program No Reservations where he travels all over the world and eats locally and takes in some local adventures. I still prefer Ian Wright of Globe Trekker. They recently put most of their travel programs online for free.
Smile is not a book you will refer to, but it's worth a read, so look for it in your local library before buying it.