Thumbing Things Up
John Waters Hitchhikes Across America
by John Waters
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$26.00 List Price
The stunt book is a great American genre. For reasons of capitalism and lack of imagination, however, the stunt-writing industry took a sad tumble a while back, just about 118 years after Nellie Bly set out to travel around the world in under eighty days. Picture it: The year was 2007, and A. J. Jacobs published The Year of Living Biblically, while Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, began living eco-consciously (though his book wasn’t published until 2009, by which time the planet had already failed to be saved). “The whole ‘Set Time Period During Which I Tried To Make Myself A More Interesting Or More Debilitated Person’ thing is over, or should be,” wrote Emily Gould at Gawker in 2007. It was all downhill, if you can believe it, after Julie and Julia in 2005, the lazier and/or poorer woman’s Eat, Pray, Love.
Once, great memoirists had to engineer things so that they were sent to Reading Gaol or the Spanish Civil War or some horrid labor camp. Now, we have Alain de Botton spending a week in Heathrow. And Do-Over!, which was former Iowa Writers’ Workshop nonfiction honcho Robin Hemley redoing his childhood, from kindergarten to prom. There was Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk and 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust. (“After a year, you’d think that he could learn how to do this and relate the results to the reader. No dice,” wrote an exasperated Amazon reviewer. But, but—he grew his own wheat!) There was 2008’s 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy, and there was 2009’s Just Do It: How One Couple