Thursday, August 31, 2006

Memoir/Travel: 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time

Browsing through our local used bookstore one day, I spied a tattered copy of a book that's been on my want-to-read list for several years. Despite its poor condition, I bought that copy of 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe, by Mark Jacobson, and am so glad I did.

Jacobson's account of a trip around the world with his wife and three kids, ages nine, twelve, and sixteen, is part family memoir and part travelogue. I love to travel with my family (see our latest trip blog) and I love to read (and write about) family, so how could this book miss?

It's not just the genres that appeal, though. Jacobson, a writer who has contributed to such icons as Rolling Stone and Esquire, has an appealing voice that pulls you in and makes you feel a part of his family. His honesty provides that essential intimate tone of a good memoir, and his talent as a writer keeps you reading.

Their trip was no highbrow tour with stays at five-star hotels but an attempt to recreate the hippies-with-backpacks trip around the world that he and his wife had taken twenty years earlier. I'm sure you can imagine how his three New York City born and bred kids responded to his attempts to show them the Real World. To give you a glimpse of their trip, consider that the phrase "mucky dung-strewn back alleyways" is used in the very first sentence of the book.

Jacobson brings you along as his family travels through India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Jordan, Israel, and France. Readers listen in like a fly on the wall to experiences that are sometimes hilarious and sometimes sobering.

Alongside the engaging tales of their trip, Jacobson shares his introspective musings on being a parent, watching his kids grow up, and the effects of travel on their relationships. I found myself frequently nodding and marking passages like this one describing what happens when, as a family, you leave your home and all of your stuff behind to travel together:

"What remained was us. Little us, nuclear us. For the moment, the entropy that inevitably flings things and people apart was suspended. The force field of our own making ruled the day, a most favorable kind of gravity. We were together.

...That's really what this trip was, a grand, somewhat nutty gesture, a tribute to the ephemera of our lives together."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have since passed it on to my husband, who's now laughing out loud and saying, "Hey, listen to this..." just as I did to him while I read it. I was sorry when the book ended, just as I am whenever one of our family trips ends. As Jacobson puts it, "The return to normalcy was fast approaching. Trip Time, that little rip in the continuum of Regular Time, was zipping shut."

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