Ayun Halliday may not make for the most sensible travel companion, but she is certainly one of the zaniest, with a knack for inserting herself (and her unwitting cohorts) into bizarre situations around the globe. Curator of kitsch and unabashed aficionada of pop culture, Halliday offers bemused, self-deprecating narration of events from guerrilla theater in Romania to drug-induced Apocalypse Now reenactments in Vietnam to a perhaps more surreal collagen-implant demonstration at a Paris fashion show emceed by Lauren Bacall. On layover in Amsterdam, Halliday finds unlikely trouble in the red-light district—eliciting the ire of a tiny, violent madam, and is forced to explain tampons to soldiers in Kashmir—"they’re for ladies. Bleeding ladies"—that, she admits, "might have looked like white cotton bullets lined up in their box." A self-admittedly bumbling vacationer, Halliday shares—with razor-sharp wit and to hilarious effect—the travel stories most are too self-conscious to tell. Includes line drawings by the author. (from Goodreads)
I’m a fan of Ayun Halliday’s zine The East Village Inky, and I’ve read some of her articles in BUST and online thingies. No Touch Monkey! is one of her early books, and it feels a little like she was still getting used to her sea legs, so to speak.
It’s a travel memoir, but one focused more on Ayun and her travel mishaps. If you’re looking for a lot of nice stories about foreign climes, with lush descriptive scenes of exciting places and interesting people, this is probably not that book. If you’re instead looking for funny stories about a hippy-ish 20-something woman and her various boyfriends, then welcome to No Touch Monkey land!
While I find AH’s writing charming and at times lol-funny, I was expecting something a little more hard-hitting. Most of her stories involve her doing something really stupid; I think she knows it was stupid, but she never comes right out and SAYS it. It annoyed me! Maybe I’m too used to the travel = personal growth narrative. I didn’t see any personal growth, even over (I think) a decade’s worth of traveling (including one time with her newborn baby!), and I really wanted that. More depth!
That said, I am definitely going to try AH’s other books, because I do like her sense of humor. Probably something other than a travel book, though.
Read: January 23-24, 2014