Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: Don't Bother with "Carsick"

This morning, once I finished reading it, I left my copy of John Waters' travelogue, Carsick, on an northbound NJTransit train, next to our used New York Times. You see, I did not like the book. At all. It was one disappointment after another. I recommend no one read it.

But I am not capable of throwing out a book. But to donate it to my public library or to Goodwill somehow would feel like an endorsement. So some unsuspecting commuter is going to thumb through this book now at his or her own peril.

The book's premise intrigued me: film director John Waters, 66,  hitchhiked across the United States, from his home in Baltimore to his home in San Francisco and wrote about it. I spend much of my summer traveling and I love the idea of life as a kind of journey in which we encounter fellow travelers, share some experiences and gain insight into our own path. So I figured that would be this kind of book.

But it isn't. To be fair, part of my problem with the book was my own stupidity. I began reading it not realizing the first two-thirds of the book are pure fiction. The first third is Waters' fantasy about what his road trip would look like and the second third is his nightmare. I was many stories into the first third and kept googling to see if the book is fiction because the tales were so fantastical. But nothing I found told me that he was writing fiction. It was only when he claimed to have been an accomplice in a bank robbery that I began to get suspicious. Also, his stories were so bawdy, so crass, they frankly repulsed me  - lots of sex and drugs with strangers. The X-rated stories strained credibility. What was going on? Surely not everyone who picks up hitchhikers is a sex-crazed criminal? I kept hoping for something edifying. By the time Waters' narrative reached Nevada and he said he had been picked up by some fading famous starlet, I started looking at the table of contents.


That's when I saw the chapters titled the Real Rides. So I started the book there. Because I spent $26 for this end-of-summer reading book, I still had expectations: for some kind of nuanced insights into the characters he encountered and the places he visited. Nope. Most of the text was about waiting on I-70 entrance ramps, calling his assistants in Baltimore to complain he wasn't getting rides, and checking twitter feeds for the news that John Waters was hitchhiking across the country.

Waters earned an advance for this book and my hunch is the hype did not conform to his hitchhiking reality. That might be why the book is padded with pretend adventures. Waters is a creative soul. Despite the gross-out parts of the book I read, I did develop an affection for him and and I just wish he had road less traveled.

Perhaps next time a big-name publisher pays a big-name celebrity to do such a stunt,  the celebrity needs to stay off the interstate, travel some backroads and dig a little deeper into his own soul.


  1. I try to borrow books from the library, and am trying to learn to use Overdrive. It doesn't always sync with the ipad but I haven't had time to work on it. I just hate to spend money on a book that turns out to be a cr*ppy read. Life is too short!