Sunday, August 5

Book review on the run: Memoirs of a Gas Station

In my quest to read as much intellectual non-fiction many travel memoirs as I can this summer, I picked up Memoirs of a Gas Station: A Delightfully Awkward Journey Across the Alaskan Tundra by Sam Neumann.

The premise of the book seemed promising. Sam, the author, spends a summer working at a gas station in Denali National Park in Alaska. Between the stunning scenery, opportunities for backcountry adventures, and slightly oddball seasonal workers, the book should have been a roaring success.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that Neumann pokes fun at frat boys early in the book, winds up sounding an awful lot like one.

When he is upset about something, he describes it as "I sound like a gaping vagina." He disses the WNBA as being valuable only for "comedic value," and he regularly refers to himself and male friends as "women" in a derogatory way.

Had I not been on a long cross-country flight, I would have put the book down.

(Ok. Perhaps that's not entirely true. At one point I realized the train wreck was too spectacular to look away. And the more I read, the more examples I had to share of the blazing ignorance on display in this memoir.)

Neumann might be the most un-likeable person I've ever "met" in a memoir. At first he reminded me of guy friends I had in college. But just when I'd start to think he might be alright after all, he'd admit to another breathtakingly vulgar or insensitive act. Case in point: Sam describes an afternoon bushwhacking with his best friend in the world...
"I pushed back an especially cumbersome branch and stepped through the opening it created, and instead of holding it for Jim to walk through - as is common courtesy in the bush - I allowed it to snap back into his face."

(Who does that? Who does that to their best friend?)

On another hike, Sam's friend Jim winds up with soaking wet shoes - a serious problem on the Alaskan tundra. Sam's reaction is "I delighted in his pain, for he was my friend, and that's what friends do."

If that's what friends do, Sam, I hope we're always enemies.

I'll spare you further details about heavy drinking and glorifying buzzed driving as "fun." What this young writer needs is not another Alaskan adventure. He needs a class in kindness.

Rating: DNF

Recommended for: Readers who think sexist jokes and drunk driving are funny.

Rating system:
BQ = best quality (or Boston Qualifier)
PR = pleasant read (or Personal Record)
DNF = do not finish (or Did Not Finish)

For more book reviews and other recommended reading, see Book Reviews on the Run.

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