Tuesday February 18, 2003

A cover letter, market analysis, and travel literature criticism, all thrown in together:

It’s Just Like Not Being There is a non-traditional, hybrid book that combines serial text and the author’s own photography. Originally published in email, it is similar to memoirs that make use of collected personal letters, although now these letters are from the digital age. The tone is precious and intimate, following a grand arc of discovery, which can be digested in small increments. The text holds an awareness of the audience reading it in the morning at work while sifting through their daily email. But the subject turns suddenly to one of the most important moments in any person’s life – the death of their mother.

It’s Just Like Not Being There is autobiographical and it is travel writing, but it is not purely a travel book. As a postmodern text, it plays with the bewildering surface of intersecting cultures, like Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer. There are no long descriptive passages exoticizing traditional romantic views of the East. There are no pictures of mud-caked sadhus swinging incense over the Ganges. Instead, it is closer in tone to works by Bruce Chatwin and Bill Bryson, both contemporary travel writers (and rich, white western men) who attempt to sidestep the colonialist nature of travel by detailing their own ironic bumbling.

Rather than trying to keep the distance between America and India intact by accentuating the exotic, It’s Just Like Not Being There celebrates the train wreck of global popular culture. It is postcolonial as defined by Simon During in Postcolonialism and Globalization because “it produces a mood in which exoticism, normality, and transworld sharedness combine, and in which consumption warmly glows.” It is simultaneous irony and humanism as best typified by Kurt Vonnegut. But it is not always easy and it is not always correct. In Tourists with Typewriters, Patrick Holland and Graham Guggan point out that “Travel writing is a genre that manufactures “otherness” even as it claims to demystify it.” And that postcolonial travel writers are conflicted by working in a genre “that is in many ways antithetical to them.” It’s Just Like Not Being There demonstrates that the Culture of India is not a thing that can be attacked or eroded by the west. It is built every day anew by every person living in that region with each decision they make.

The book includes color photography on most spreads, with 42 full-page photographs throughout. These photos are not only illustrative to the text, but allow the book to stand alone in the coffee table/fine art book genre. It is presented with a quiet and open design in an attempt to balance a voice that is loud and at times curmudgeonly. There are 35 small folios that bleed to the edge of the page to serve as visual markers for events in the text. As one reader noted, the folios, “serve as visual gossip,” equipping the reader with insight to the author’s point of view and personal details. Each photo was taken as the events in the story unfolded. Yet, the photos lack captions and are intended to stand alone from the text.

It’s Just Like Not Being There is simultaneously a memoir, a travelogue and a photographic journal. If this makes it difficult to place on a bookstore shelf, it also makes it stand out loudly. There are no other books like it.



Baudrillard, Jean. America: Verso 1986

Caulfield, Annie. Kingdom of the Film Stars. Lonely Planet 1997

Condon, Sean. Sean and David’s Long Drive. Lonely Planet 1996

During, Simon. “Postcolonialism and Globalization.” Meanjin 48, no. 2 1992 339-53

Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyperreality. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986

Holland, Patrick and Huggan, Graham. Tourists With Typewriters: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Travel Writing. University of Michigan Press 2000

Iyer, Pico. Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East. Vintage Departures 1988

McGrath, Melanie. Motel Nirvana: Dreaming of the New Age in the American Desert. Picador 1996

David Primmer’s Bio

Dave was born and raised in Renton, Washington, where he first experienced living in an alien culture. He studied writing at the University of Washington and was a rock journalist during the grunge era. When punk broke he went to San Francisco. He did artistic stuff like washing dishes and building playgrounds. Then it was 1992 and you could get rich in computers (yes! even then!). He started administrating large groups of computers and building email servers and web server clusters. He forgot about writing for a good 7 years and then decided to start writing email adventure stories to a hundred or so friends. Turned out, the computer work had served him well. Since 1999, tens of thousands of people have visited primco.org, the home of his writing and photography.