BOOK REVIEW: Smile When You’re Lying by Chuck Thompson

Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel WriterSmile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Smile When You’re Lying gives the reader an insider’s view of the deceit rife in travel writing. In the process, Chuck Thompson tells a story of life on the vagabonding circuit. Instead of being a story of idyllic and pristine white sand beaches, it’s the story of drug- and booze-riddled expats and the prostitutes they frequent.

Thompson lived a colorful life. He tells of how his interest in Thailand began when he heard stories while in a jail in Alaska. He introduces cast of characters, such as Shanghai Bob, many of who are even more colorful than he. It’s this wild living that makes the book an interesting read, but, ironically, it also makes such stories impossible to sell to any of the travels magazines–all of which make money off of advertiser dollars, advertisers who have an interest in making travel seem safe, clean, and family-friendly.

Thompson tells of how he began teaching English in Japan, a common point of origin for expats taking to Asia. Japan has a large and well-developed program, called JET, that brings native English speakers to Japan to teach language or work in government offices as translators.

In addition to the intro on Thailand, a chapter on his Alaskan youth,and one on his JET days, there are chapters on Latin America, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, there is a chapter that lends travel advice for aspiring travel writers and one about what travel mags don’t want readers to know. It should be noted that besides having written for such magazines, Thompson did a stint as an editor as well.

Thompson also devotes a chapter to countering the myth that Americans are–on the whole–bigger travel bastards than the people of other Western nations.

If you are interested in travel writing or vagabonding, this is a worthwhile read.

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