Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review: Travel Tips for the Timid: Or, What Guidebooks Never Tell by Carolyn Cassady

In 1979, Carolyn Cassady and her daughter, Jami, took a once-in-a-lifetime trip through Europe. The trip was in part financed from Carolyn's recent consulting on the movie, Heart Beat, which was based on an excerpt from her yet-to-be-published 1990 memoir, Off the Road: Twenty Years with Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. After Carolyn's death in 2013, her children -- Cathy, Jami, and John Allen -- discovered a treasure trove of drawings and art work as well as evidence of her prolific writing, including this charming travel memoir. They have undertaken the task of publishing these writings posthumously, beginning with this book, Travel Tips for the Timid: Or, What Guidebooks Never Tell.

Self-described as a "mother-daughter 1979 travel narrative," there is more here than just a written memoir of the two months Carolyn and Jami spent traveling around France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, England, Scotland, Switzerland, and Morocco. There is the expected memoir content that Carolyn wrote upon her return, but also included in this book (I reviewed the Kindle edition) are sections of her actual diary interspersed with relevant sections of the memoir. Juxtaposing after-the-fact memoir details with contemporaneous diary entries intensifies the experience for the reader. The entire diary is included without interruption as an appendix. Finally, the Cassady children created a digitized scrapbook of items Carolyn collected from the trip, including maps, photos, tickets, brochures, postcards, magazine articles, etc. that she came across on their journey. This digitized version is available on-line to purchasers of the book (who are provided with a URL and password). The scrapbook includes 162 pages of collected items and each chapter in the memoir ends with a reference section where the reader can identify the page numbers in the scrapbook that related to specific content in that chapter. In addition to her complete (typed) diary included as an appendix, there are appendices with excerpts from the scrapbook as well as actual photos of her handwritten diary.

The memoir, or travelogue, is illustrated throughout with Carolyn's delightful line drawings. They have a whimsical quality and are alone worth the price of the book. You can see an example of Carolyn's artwork on the book's cover above.

This memoir was written about a trip in 1979 when we didn't have GPS, smartphones, and the Internet, so some of the travails Carolyn and Jami experienced are not as relevant to today's traveler. Nevertheless, many of the travel tips are timeless and they are always delivered in Carolyn's straightforward, authentic style of writing. She is a master of description -- I almost felt like I was traveling along with them -- and while the mood is generally upbeat, she is not afraid to register complaints about plumbing, being sick, travel woes, and the myriad other challenges involved in lengthy travel abroad. Throughout, Carolyn's wit shines through brightly.

The below passage from the book spoke to me:
I looked at the rows of wild clouds, street lights and felt like I was in a scene from Dickens. I'm living in Edinburgh. My garret is like dozens of others. I'm a part of it, not a tourist. An old woman alone, unafraid, and the constable shy. The yellow gaslights, the sloping roofs, the nightlife below. The castle at the end of the row, an old kirk near the block's end. Than God for allowing me to see this!
The last page of the book is a wonderful self-portrait of Carolyn sitting among piles of guidebooks and maps as she prepares for the trip. The caption reads,"Before traveling, by all means BE PREPARED!" This charming little book will definitely help you do that, and I recommend it.

The book's publisher, The Open Book Press, has a webpage describing the book that includes a link to Amazon for purchasing a copy.


Unknown said...

Terrific review, thanks!
John Allen Cassady

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

My pleasure, John.