The trouble with books
In 2005 I traveled to Italy with a college friend. We were both on tight budgets, so we weren’t about to fritter away our traveling money on fancy new guidebooks. At a used-books store I found a guide to Rome that had been published in 1993, and we decided it would do. After all, this was Rome we were talking about: if an attraction wasn’t at least twelve years old, we probably didn’t need to know about it.
Sure, there were a few details that give away the book’s age (besides the faded cover): for one thing, the quoted prices were nearly always too low. On the other hand, that hardly mattered, since they were quoted in lire, and by 2005 we were using euros. The other big giveaway was the total lack of reference to that newfangled reality called the Internet. The book had no helpful URLs or tips for finding Wi-Fi hookups, and the book recommended we check on museum hours, hotel reservations, and train schedules by — get this — using the telephone. How quaint. But, of course, we didn’t need to be told to use the Internet, and so we enjoyed being reminded how much easier it was to book tickets and access travel advice in the age of the World Wide Web. What a time to be alive! Pity the ancients of 1993!
Nowadays I can afford to be a little less tightfisted when it comes to planning vacations. The husband and I are considering making a trip to our ancestral land in the coming months, and so I stopped by a bookstore a few days ago to buy a (non-pre-owned) guidebook. I settled on Fodor’s Ireland 2009 — how much more up-to-date could it get?
Quite a bit, as it turns out. In the May 22 Commonweal, Charles R. Morris began his review of The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence by Robert J. Samuelson by observing, “Book publishing schedules are cruel.” That same cruel reality has left the Fodor’s editors looking just a bit foolish. The first section in the book, headed “What’s New?” begins this way:
After a decade of riding the back of its explosive ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy, timeless Ireland has changed forever.
That sounds extremely of-the-moment, until you read on and discover that the “change” they’re referring to is not the consequence of sharp economic decline. In fact, Fodor’s tells travelers to “expect a very confident country lifted by the financial tidal wave of the past decade.” As I read on in “What’s New?” I kept flipping back to the cover and the copyright page — This is the 2009 edition, isn’t it?
Thanks to an economic turnaround that’s become the envy of its EU neighbors…the country’s ethos of spend, spend, spend has transformed everything from tourism to building to corporate finance. In contrast to the grim reality of the early ’90s…the country presently groans under the weight of returning expats keen to nab top-paying jobs, as well as a massive influx of Eastern European immigrants seeking their portion of the economic miracle. With the worldwide economic downturn of 2008, however, the horizon is looking less rosy: job creation has stalled and bankruptcies have made the news.
Having attempted to hedge its bets with that one sentence, the intro — and the rest of the book — goes back to gloating about the “economic miracle” that has made Ireland such an exciting and expensive destination. Bankruptcies may have made the news, but they haven’t made their way into the guidebook. Looking to meet authentic Dubliners? Fodor’s has some suggestions for striking up a conversation:
It all comes down to gently breaking the ice with tried-and-tested topics like the weather (obviously), the spate of new building (it’s everywhere), the price of the pint (always upward), and how long the boom will last (nobody, not even the Good Lord himself, knows the answer to this one).
This is what I get, I suppose, for splurging on a new guide when I might have found a more pessimistic one in a bargain bin somewhere. Of course, it hardly matters, since (if we decide to go) we’ll do most of our research and planning online — including multiple visits to the Fodor’s Web site, I’m sure. The book is just to get us started dreaming, and to guide us once we’re on the ground. And if the prices it quotes are higher than the ones we encounter in hotels and pubs, well, that will be the good news, won’t it?