When you’re out there in the Big Country, alone and surviving by your wits on a vintage Honda twin you wind up reading a lot and the books that you do read wind up taking on a whole new level of importance. You can’t always read whatever you want so one winds up reading a weird assortment of whatever happens to be available. Bulky hardcovers are out and small paperbacks, easily stuffable into a saddlebag, are in. You take what you can get.
Drums on the Mohawk: Gather round young Turks and bear witness to lives unfolding on the American frontier during a young nation’s fight for independence from its overbearing British overlords. Supposedly a classic piece of American literature(I picked it out of the classics section at a used English-language book store in Ecuador), Drums reads like a pulp novel, though a good one at that. The book is well written and sets a good pace, with interesting and great descriptions of the peoples and places of the old New York hinterlands and beyond during the Revolutionary War. What a weird world it was back then when the realm of the Catskills was considered to be a frontier and greasy ol’ Indians trolled the woods for German scalps. A different place and time indeed, yet descriptions of olden tyme towns that still exist to this very day serve to rouse the misty-eyed wistfulness of even the most hardened of lonesome adventurers that occasionally pine for their old Catskillian haunts. Best read with a sack lunch atop Kaaterskill Falls, feet dangling lazily over the edge on a late-summer’s afternoon.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Mark Twain is the name of a knot a boatswain makes when he’s tying knots on the Mississippi. It also happens to be the pen name of one Samuel T. Clemens, considered to be one of the greatest American writers ever. I know this because I saw it explained on an episode of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures Saturday morning cartoon show when I was a kid and I’ve never forgotten it. Imagine that…a road trip through time! But, we’re getting off topic here. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of Twain’s most well-known works and it reads pretty well, although I might think twice about letting my black son read it because Twain uses the n-word a lot. A good travel-adventure tome for travelling adventurers. Borrows a lot from Heyerdahl’s mystical Kon-Tiki as we follow the young Huck and his manservant Jim as they float, sometimes lazily and sometimes not, on a raft down the mighty Mississippi. Rest assured that all ends well and there’s even a brief appearance by the loveable Tom Sawyer. A must read for any real Amurican.
Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America: Plucked from the shelves of a weird roadside motel in Costa Rica, this waterlogged, moldy tome was a good primer on Latin American history and served as a nice distraction while recovering from leishmaniasis in a hammock in Panama. Basically just a compilation of magazine articles touching on various latino topics such as Che, FARC, Subcommandante Marcos, and Evita, Looking for History reads pretty well and pretty quickly at that as each chapter is a different article. I became an expert on Latin America overnight and I really liked the picture on the front.
The Ra Expeditions: Thor Heyerdahl: The story of a boy with gumption. The Ra Expeditions was picked up when Looking for History was put down as we dangled lazily, languidly in our tropical Panamanian hammock. The Ra Expeditions follows Heyerdahl and his multinational team as they pilot a papyrus boat across the atlantic to prove that transoceanic travel was indeed possible, and possibly probable, in the times of ancient man. A paper boat across the Atlantic? Really? Really dog, it’s true. Look, Kon-Tiki it is not but Heyerdahl is still a God to be worshipped.
The Good ol’ Boys: Written by one Elmer Kelton, The Good Ol’ Boys is clearly a Louis L’amour rip off designed to cash in on the good sir’s popularity (well earned) and make a quick buck. All travelers looking to exchange books at Cafe Good in Baños, Ecuador read this review and ten cuidado! Look, we all knew before diving in to The Good Ol’ Boys that it wasn’t going to be as good as a L’amour book but we needed something to read in Nantar and all the other books on the shelf were in German or Spanish-language college textbooks (people should be lashed for that shit). Anyway, there’s not much of a story here. The main protagonist is Hewey, an aging bachelor cowboy who is off to visit his homesteading brother and fam when he runs afoul of the law by punching out a corrupt cop. Ok, so there’s some conflict there but then get this, there’s also an evil banker trying to run Hewey’s bro out of town and gobble up the farm for his own selfish interests. Real run of the mill stuff. There’s even a crappy romance as Kelton regales us with an awkward courtship from the manly, yet timid, Hewey Calloway and plain-Jane school marm Spring Renfro. Spring is referred to as being plain and, at first glance, not much to look at, but someone that’ll grow on you. C’mon, give us something we can work with, Elmer. The Good ol’ Boys is so terrible that at one point Hewey is referred to as ‘Henry’ and the book was ruined for me after that. One can imagine the Good ol’ Boys being passed around a barracks in Vietnam and guys teasing each other about how their girlfriend back home is uglier than Spring Renfro (the two-penny whore).
Fair Blows the Wind: Hands down the best Louis L’amour tome to date I’ve deigned to read on this magnificent voyage and it’s not even set in the wastelands of the old tyme American West. Unthoughtfully tossed in the throwaway section of a book exchange at a cafe in Baños(a different cafe than where The Good Ol’ Boys was sourced) by its pretentious gringo owner, Fair Blows was rescued and read almost in one sitting; an epic tale that was devoured by candlelight in the abandoned refugio slapped upon the slopes of the mighty Tungurahua volcano in the Ecuadorian andes. Swashbuckling, babes, adventures on not one but two continents, shipwrecks, and the possibility of a sequel make Fair Blows the Wind a worthy travel buddy that fits in your pocket! Order it now on Amazon for one penny!
Last of the Breed: Yet another Louis L’amour read! These things are like gold when you’re out there in the wilderness, surviving by your wits and popping your adventure zits! Running out of ammo and on the brink of Patagonia, Last of the Breed was discovered in the book exchange at Posta del Viajero in Azul, Argentina. Typical formulaic stuff and not one of Louis’ greatest, LotB was nevertheless a fun read. A western that takes place in the 1980’s in Siberia, LotB follows the adventures of Joe Mack, a half-breed American Injun who’s plane is shot down and is captured by the Russians and thrown into a prison camp in the middle of Siberia. Joe Mack escapes and we follow his exploits through the Siberian wilderness. In the dead of winter no less! Escape is impossible!! Right!? Isn’t it!? Well, maybe not for Joe Mack!
Alive: One of the weirdest tales of the twentieth century, Alive chronicles the hideous account of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes and whose survivors are forced to eat the flesh of their dead brethren to survive. Would you eat your dead buddie’s balls? Seriously, that’s a legitimate question because that’s what these guys did. They ate everything. Genitals, brains, intestines…everything. A lot of people know this story from the movie of the same name starring a young Ethan Hawke, but the movie doesn’t show our heroes fashioning bowls out of the hallowed out skulls of the fallen, sumptuously supping stews made of brain matter and awful offal. On the chance occasion that they could scrounge some wood or flammable material from somewhere within what remained of the plane, they were able to cook the meat but they were mostly eating this stuff raw. A weird scene no doubt with the sucking of marrow out of broken bones and the fashioning of gaucho socks out of forearm skins peeled from corpses. As far as books go, Alive is not a great one but it is the story that shines and it doesn’t really matter how well it is written. What is weird is how the boys took to their meals with such relish, savoring every single part of the fallen. Weird enough that they’re eating the dead but even weirder that they’re eating their dicks and shit. To understand all this you’ve got to get into the mind of the carnivorous Argentine (or in this case Uruguayan) where the asado reigns supreme. Alive is a an interesting book indeed, and one that should be found slipped into the seatbacks of all trans-Andean flights.
Survivor: Not one of Pahlaniuk’s best, but not a bad read in and of itself. Devoured in Patagonia along with Last of the Breed, Survivor was a welcome companion to the cold and hungry lonesome traveler reading tentside in the barrenlands of Americas’ south. Fight Club it is not but Survivor is serviceable. Here we follow the exploits of an awkward survivor of one of America’s last religious death cults who send their young ones out into society to become indentured servants. All the members of the cult decide to kill themselves in a mass suicide but our hero is spared and he is now faced with living out the rest of a life that now has little meaning. His brother also survives and is trying to kill him and there’s a girl in it that can see the future, which is all too convenient and the plot leans on that a little too much. It’s not fair. The best part of the book is the opening salvo, and everything sort of gets a little boring from there. The pages count down instead of up.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa: Travel narrative?Memoir? I’m not sure how to classify this book. Travel narrative I guess because you would probably find this in the travel section at a book store. A better place would be in the garbage pail. You know what this book is going to be like even before you open it, or at least I did. I don’t know why I traded Survivor for it, maybe I was just desperate to read something in the English tongue I was, but even then I knew. Beyond the Sky and the Earth is the account of a Canadian girl who lands a job teaching English in Bhutan. It is utterly predictable right down to the last page which I didn’t bother to read. Finding yourself(as in self discovery) in another country is the theme and milquetoast adventures are the game. Look, I could read Louis L’amour books and pulp fiction all day. That shit is predictable to a “T” but you know that the characters aren’t real, even the bad ones. The worst thing about Beyond the Sky and the Earth is that Jamie Zeppa is a real person.
Dance Hall of the Dead: “Go on take it, c’mon it’s a good book. Just go ahead and take it. It’s a good book, if you like Louis L’amour books you’ll like Dance Hall of the Dead,” said the enterprising used-book sales-bot in the same used-book store in Vilcabamba where we sourced Drums Along the Mohawk. Fine, alright, I’ll fucking take it. Jesus, you’re breath stinks, just get the fuck away from me. Right away I knew that the guy wanted me to buy it because there were three copies and he wanted to pare them down but I figured that if there were three copies of it then at least three people had read it and thought it worthy enough to lug it along with them all the way to Ecuador. All this went through my mind in a split second. So I took it and never looked back. Dance Hall is not bad. It’s pulp man, but we love pulp. A delightful romp into the Navajo criminal underbelly with striking scenes of the American southwest, and you know how we feel about the west and the southwest especially here at Manboy. While I didn’t care for the raised metallic lettering on the cover, Dance Hall is a worthy read.
Motorcycle Diaries: Or, Diarios de Motocicleta. Sourced on the mean streets of La Paz, Diarios follows the adventures of a young Che Guevarito and his buddy as they travel the South American continent in search of adventure. Beyond the Sky and the Earth it is not, The Motorcycle Diaries is not a bad read at all and is relatively easy to read in spanish, albeit with plenty of Argentinianisms. Reading the author’s thoughts about riding a motorcycle through the Atacama while riding a motorcycle through the Atacama was an interesting touch and Che’s descriptions of the landscapes, the food, and the people he encountered throughout the book were interesting, honest, and insightful. A treat indeed, as such seems to be a rarity these days. Perceptive readers may glance glimmers of an aspiring and ambitious sociopath. Can a million t-shirts be wrong?