A clever idea for a travel book, executed engagingly though inconsistently.
Perhaps the first book by Minneapolis-based freelance writer Mack might best be considered a meta–travel book, a book about travel books, one in particular, and how it all but created the all-American practice of tourism while catering to it. The book that inspired this one is Frommer’s Europe on Five Dollars a Day, first published in 1957 and discontinued a half-century later as Europe on $95 a Day). The author found a copy at a book fair, bought it for a dime and discovered that it was something of a talisman for his mother, who used it on her own European travels before marriage. So the author decided to tour Europe using only this ancient, outdated book as a guide, ignoring all updates, successors and the advent of the Internet, doing his best to go, eat and stay where Frommer had advised (knowing that his expenses will extend well past $5 per day). The problem with this concept is that most of those places have closed over the years since the book was published, and the few that remain are either booked (by folks planning ahead with that pesky Internet), radically changed and/or out of Mack’s price reach. The author intersperses his travel adventures (which generally are no more unusual or entertaining than anyone else’s) with notes from his mother’s trip and some higher-concept musing about the impact of Frommer, the changes in travel in general and the changing notion of “tourist” from populist phenomenon to something of an epithet. In the process, Mack offers “cheers, too, to the beaten path; it’s beaten for a reason” and learns “to embrace the cliché.” He writes of Frommer, “he was to travel as Julia Child was to food: the public figure who arrived at just the right cultural moment and said, with a light but nurturing tone, ‘You can do this. It’s not that hard. Here’s how.’ ”
A genial companion for the armchair traveler.