Chuck Thompson — Smile When You’re Lying

Former Maxim features editor and all-around bon vivant Chuck Thompson peels back the faux-bamboo veneer of the travel business in a scathing, often hysterically funny exposé.

Thompson bemoans the lack of any kind of “authentic” point of view in contemporary travel writing while explaining exactly why such a voracious growth industry likes it that way. With some clever travel tips, handy editing advice, and a career’s worth of self-effacing travel disasters to draw from, he serves up some tasty travel tidbits (number one on Thompson’s list of things a writer should never do: describe anything other than food in culinary terms).

As a former magazine designer, my favorite part of the book is Thompson’s whole-hearted yet utterly doomed attempt to manage a start-up magazine for Travelocity. The sense of dread when consultants show up two weeks before the first issue is due on press is palpable—and spot on. Consultants are like bubonic rats and only bring grim death to any workplace.

Unlike Holidays in Hell, wherein misanthrope P.J. O’Rourke simply reinforces American xenophobic attitudes toward the Third World, Thompson actually dispels many preconceived notions toward places we never go, and portrays the usual hot spots as the crapholes they usually are.

Thompson and I see eye-to-eye on the questionable appeal of the Caribbean, Graceland, and Las Vegas. I also agree that Eric Clapton, while technically not a vacation destination is somewhat overrated. And thanks to Thompson’s detailed romp through Bangkok’s red-light district, I will never look at Ulysses S. Grant’s signature the same way again.

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