Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
Choose your own adventure
on 21 September 2010
If you've ever found yourself cooking up a great plan or adventure whilst taking your morning shower, only to find after weeks or months of procrastination that someone else has executed your grand idea, then you must read this book. Why? Because here is a man who had the guts to follow through.
The aim is singular: Paul Smith is to travel from Newcastle in the UK to Campbell Island near New Zealand. Yet the method is beautifully incomplete: By his own rules, he must advance his journey exclusively through travel and accommodation offers from people on Twitter. He's not allowed to plan more than three days in advance, and his own money may be spent on food and drink only. If he receives just one offer for the next stage of his trip, he's obliged to take it. If there's more than one, he can choose.
There is a point in the book where Smith compares his story to a Choose Your Own Adventure tale, where the reader controls the outcome by making choices at key stages in the book ("If you want Jim to get on the train and follow the man with the suspicious-looking hat, go to page 13"). I remember lapping up these novels as a teenager, and at a basic level this "crowd-sourcing of the plot" idea might explain the child-like fascination and blind trust displayed by the random strangers who helped shape his unpredictable journey through public "@replies" on Twitter.
Luckily the parallel with these novels stops there. Unlike those relics of teenage nostalgia, Smith's book has the feel of a rounded, well-crafted novel and it proceeds at a satisfying pace that makes it hard to put down.
You don't need to be a social media enthusiast to enjoy it. Although the book exposes the brilliant possibilities that open-ended Twitter communications embody, the tool itself is no more than that: It is a means to an end.
For me, the book is much more about human nature and our collective desire to transcend the mundane in order to become part of something big and meaningful. We're genetically programmed for it, and so are the wonderful characters Smith meets along the way. From high-flying middle-aged German entrepreneurs through ageing Californian hipsters to no-nonsense patriotic Kiwis; each had their individual motivation for helping out, but the common thread was simple: Here is someone doing something that people will talk about, and I want to be a part of it.
Smith's biggest achievement is to portray himself as a fallible character. One of the back cover reviews calls him a "true British eccentric", but I think it misses the point. The real power of this tale lies in Smith's exposition of his own fears, misconceptions and faults without sounding annoyingly woeful or pretentiously self-effacing.
We don't need to be "eccentrics" to do great things. Normal people with mortgages, kids, demanding jobs and personal weaknesses can do so too. And for every critic or detractor there will be ten people offering encouragement and support, because they see in the adventurer a courage that, possibly, they find lacking in themselves.
I must confess that I have a certain prejudice against lad-ish humour and witty pop culture references, and whilst reading the first few chapters I feared these might derail the book. But I was wrong, firstly because they are used sparingly and sensibly, but ultimately because I bought into Smith as an individual, and such references naturally become part of his character. By page 40 I found myself willing him towards success.
If you're long on ideas but short in motivation, then buy this book. It's a brilliant portrayal of a simple fact: The best way to get things done is not through pondering and analysing, but through getting up and doing something about it. The details have a way of working themselves out along the way.