3 out of 4 stars
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Some people take up golfing after they retire. Other people buy a motor home and go on a rambling solo road trip across America. George Critchlow is the second kind, and his book, Travels With Vamper: A Graybeard’s Journey, chronicles his travels through the United States in a camper van affectionately dubbed Vamper. In addition to describing the scenic landscape he navigates, Critchlow also shares his thoughts on the sharply divided political landscape as the 2016 presidential campaign rose to a fever pitch during his journey. His opinions are informed by his long and successful law career, turning the book into an intriguing blend of memoir, travelogue, and political commentary. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
The author’s voice drew me in from the very first page. Critchlow writes in a smooth, friendly, unpretentious tone, and his book reads as though he were telling you his stories in person over a cold beer on a lazy day. Critchlow led an interesting life even before Vamper came into the picture – he’s traveled all over the world, argued many court cases, and even spent several years as the interim dean at the law school where he first studied. Stories from his youth, his days as a lawyer, and his teaching career are scattered throughout the book, and he does an excellent job of weaving them all together. The story bounces from past to present, from introspection to conversation, without losing its flow.
Critchlow keeps these separate threads cohesive by filtering them all through the lens of something he cares deeply about – the diversity and multiculturalism of America. He has done pro bono work defending a Vietnamese immigrant accused of gang activity, and spoken out against his law school colleagues when they wanted to fire a Nepalese professor without, he felt, just cause. It’s obvious that he loves the American Dream – the idea that anyone can come to the US from anywhere and make a name for themselves through hard work – and this is a theme that comes up over and over in this memoir.
When it comes to politics, Critchlow views Donald Trump as an affront to those values of hard work, openness, and acceptance, and he makes a point of talking to the Trump supporters he meets on his travels and trying to understand their point of view. While he certainly doesn’t agree with all of them, it’s very interesting to read his well-expressed thoughts on such a polarizing issue.
I didn’t love everything about the book, though. It was riddled with misspellings, most of which could have and should have been caught with just a little fact-checking. Critchlow refers to his hero, Muhammad Ali, as ‘Muhammed,’ and continually calls Tehachapi, California, ‘Tehapachi’ – not to mention writing ‘Mohave Desert’ instead of ‘Mojave.’ It was disappointing that these errors slipped through when they could have been corrected so easily.
Misspellings aside, I really enjoyed Travels with Vamper. I wouldn’t call it the best travel memoir I’ve ever read, but Critchlow’s experiences and obvious passion for the American Dream made for an extremely interesting read that I’d recommend to those who love a good political discussion.
Travels with Vamper: A Graybeard’s Journey
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