19 July 2011

List love: Another 10 bookish pet peeves, travelogue and ex-pat memoir edition

If you are a regular visitor to this blog you will know that I love reading travelogues and count them as my favourite non-fiction genre. Having read so many, I have naturally discovered things that I like and dislike about them, so here is a list of 10 things that annoy me in travelogues. Not all of them are annoying enough to make me stop reading, but some of them have sufficed to make me never want to read another book by a particular author:

  1. Authors who went on long trips to find themselves and then wrote at length about the process, disguising it as a travelogue. I much prefer the ones who travel because they're curious or because they love travelling or adventure or who travel “because”. Got-to-find-myself books tend to be too much about the author's internal struggles and feelings and not enough about the places they visit and the people they meet. Such books should really be shelved as self-help or general memoirs rather than as travelogues.
  2. Authors who write patronisingly about the natives. This includes waxing lyrical about their innocence, quaintness or simplicity.
  3. Hypocritical authors. For example, an author who writes disapprovingly about the rapacity and greed of, say, Indian street merchants, and then turns around and boasts about how their haggling skills saved them a few paise when dealing with them. Those paise could well be the difference between a meal and no food at all for a small businessman. One travel author, who shall remain nameless, would go on for paragraphs about how evil and useless the Catholic church was, but then didn’t hesitate to seek help from the very same church when she was in trouble in a foreign country. In the following passages I searched in vain for any sign of gratitude for the help rendered.
  4. Those who judge a whole gender, tribe, race or nation on the basis of a few bad or good individuals.
  5. Those who come across as overly smug about their lovely life and home abroad in expat memoirs.
  6. Authors who moan about how tourism is going to spoil some particular place and then go on to contribute to its ruination by telling the world about its wonders in their writing.
  7. Quirky is fine, but don’t overdo it.
  8. Books that read like a long version of a “what I did on my [dead-ordinary] holidays” essay.
  9. Those who clearly consider themselves to be above the people they meet, on grounds of nationality, race, gender, education or perceived moral superiority. British writers of yesteryear were particularly prone to this.
  10. Authors who clearly didn’t travel with an open mind. How are you going to learn anything if your ideas and opinions are carved in stone before you set out?

3 comments:

djskrimiblog said...

Amen!

But no matter how good our intentions, I think most of us will realize we do harbour prejudices if we stay in another country for months ;)

Dorte H

Bibliophile said...

Of course everyone has prejudices, Dorte, even the most open-minded and well-intentioned people. I would just prefer not to read about them.

Anonymous said...

Could not agree more with your list, Bibliophile!
In addition, I can't stand authors who skip doing even basic research, thinking they've got it all figured out by simple, shallow, and all to brief observation... which leads to many of the defects you mentioned, actually.
luciek