"I am a person who routinely writes lists of things I've already done, just to make myself feel more accomplished," writes Catherine Price in the introduction to her new book. Ah yes, we all know the type. Price is the consumer to whom guides like "100 Places to See in Your Lifetime" and "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" are marketed: a compulsive list-maker, an organiser, an ambitious gatherer of experiences. So it makes some sense that Price, a contributing editor at Popular Science, would take hold of this imperative device and subvert it, as she does in her new anti-manual, "101 Places Not To See Before You Die".
The concept is simple: pick 101 terrible places or situations, explore them and live to tell the tale. The table of contents reveal the creative leeway within these confines, with chapters devoted to everything from a Chinese coal mine to a vomitorium to "Amateur Night at a Shooting Range" and "An AA Meeting When You're Drunk". Clearly, the concept contains a multitude, and Price's choices range from the psychologically humiliating to the sexually discomfiting to the physically painful. The entries themselves are short, sweet and sometimes entirely imagined for comic effect (as in the case of "The Room Where SPAM Subject Lines Are Created").
In a chapter devoted to nyotaimori, or "female body presentation", Price explains the technicalities of a practice known to laypeople as "Naked Sushi":
After stripping down and shaving off all extraneous body hair, young, nubile models wash themselves in unscented soap, lie down on a table, and allow chefs to cover them in sushi, seaweed, and a few strategically placed flowers. Wheeled into a banquet room, they then spend several hours staring blankly at the ceiling as diners ogle their bodies and poke them with chopsticks.
In a chapter devoted to the steam room at the Russian & Turkish Baths in New York's East Village, Price describes being beaten with a bundle of oak leaves soaked in olive oil by a spa attendant, then doused in two buckets of ice water. In "The Inner Workings of a Rendering Plant", she limns a particularly effective method of skinning a dead, bloated cow (it involves an air hose). A chapter devoted to pig lagoons explains that the title subject is not a combination of "a swimming hole and BLTs" but rather a kind of lethal pig-waste repository covering up to 120,000 square feet and containing gases like ammonia and hydrogen-sulfide. "When inhaled," Price writes, pig vapour "can lead to bronchitis, asthma, nosebleeds, brain damage, seizures, and even death." Cross that one off your list, in other words.
Although Price's research is solid and her curating of bad experiences laudable, the author doesn't actually visit many of the spots on her list. Doubtless this would have produced a much more vivid book, albeit a logistically thorny one. As it is, Price combines the pluck of Emily Gould with the droll wit of Mary Roach and the inventive perversity of a12-year-old boy to produce a book that hammers home a useful message: "Travel should be an adventure, not an assignment," she writes. "If you spend your vacations armed with too many checklists, you're missing the point of leaving home."
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