In this issue: The books this issue cover two ends of the scale: a humorous parody of a womens' book club staple (through Ireland, Vegas, and Thailand) and a more serious and enlightening quest in Morocco.
Drink, Play, F@#k: One Man's Search for Anything Across Ireland, Las Vegas, and Thailand
By Andrew Gottlieb
Every so often a travel book gets picked up by seemingly every book club in America and becomes a bestseller. Under the Tuscan Sun was one, then came Eat, Pray, Love, the story of a woman getting divorced, traveling, and finding herself (with the help of a torrid love affair of course). From best I can tell, that is the plot line to adopt if you want to go from writing a standard travel narrative to being touted by Oprah. I can't tell you if that still-popular book is any good, but my wife and her friends sure loved it...
So what would the male version of this journey of self-discovery and focused self-absorption look like? Would it be anywhere close to popular since guys don't generally read that kind of thing? Comedian Andrew Gottlieb thought it would be fun to find out and he fired off drink, play, f@#k—a romp through the pubs of Dublin, the casinos of Las Vegas, and the women of Thailand. Surprisingly though, this turns out to be an almost-believable story from a real character instead of a hedonistic cardboard cut-out.
It's the story of Bob Sullivan, a guy with a normal name who has suffered at the hands of a domineering wife. ("As a man, my default setting is, 'I'm always right.' But as a married man, I made a conscious decision to reset my default position to 'my wife is always right.') When she bolts on him for another man, he decides to hit the road for a year and bow to the gods of pleasure. He does what you would expect—drinking, gambling, and getting up when he feels like it—but finds he can't just be an irresponsible jerk as he planned. The fact that he doesn't even get laid until the third section makes this more than the kind of "guy gone wild" year of debauchery he easily could have pursued.
There are sections that defy credulity, with a month being comped at the Bellagio and more coincidences than an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Plus most of the time it's the kind of prose that makes you smile instead of letting out an audible chuckle. But overall it works. Instead of a bunch of one-liners and verbal acrobatics, we get an almost credible story about a guy trying to get his mojo back.
In the end, the guy gets a great girl and stays with the girl, even passing up a yacht full of hotties in Thailand to swim to shore and reunite with her. It all plays out like the Hollywood movie you will surely see someday in theaters. It'll never sell as well as its parody subject matter though: for better or for worse, it seems that most guys would rather drink, gamble, and chase women in a foreign land than to read a book about somebody else doing it.
Quest For The Kasbah
By Richard Bangs
Richard Bangs was one of the original great adventurers and founded one of the two companies that merged into Mountain Travel Sobek. He is now the host of a travel show on PBS: Adventures with Purpose. Each long adventure eventually ends up being both a show and a book, so Bangs is never at a loss for memory jogging scenes if he loses his notes.
As with the New Zealand book we reviewed before, Quest for the Kasbah is a poetic, lyrical telling of his journey (minus the film crew). Bangs writes with a fluidity and an eye for detail that is highly expressive without being pretentious, a balance so many lesser writers never seem to get right. He gives equal weight to perfect scenery and imperfect lodgings, but all with a wink and a sense that it all rolls into the package together. He relishes the tale of women breaking nuts in a cooperative as much as the tale of being secluded in the dunes of the Sahara, with no connection to the outside world.
This is no "I came, I saw, I spliced together the footage" kind of book that would result from your usual quickie travel show jaunt. Bangs dives into his subject matter fully and immerses himself in the history, the politics, and the meaning behind the architecture. He doesn't take the "quest" part of his title lightly, constantly working to unearth the story behind the details, the three thousand years of habit and thought that led to the medina, the souk, or the kasbah. He moves from Mogodor to Merzouga, from Berbers to Moroccan Jews, and from Paul Bowles to Orson Wells, all the while sounding like he really knows the context.
Bangs covers Morocco thoroughly, both in a geographic sense and a feel sense. It's been more than a decade since I set foot on Moroccan soil, but reading Quest for the Kasbah my memories of date trees, swirling dust, and sunset on the desert dunes were as vivid as they have ever been.
Editor Tim Leffel is author of the books Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and The World's Cheapest Destinations (now in its 3rd edition). He is co-author of Traveler's Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America.