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Contents May Have Shifted

Review

Contents May Have Shifted

Contrary to what the title implies, Pam Houston’s travel journal is less about the journey and more about the destination and the person you arrive with. What’s important, you see, is getting there in one piece and with your sense of humor intact. And like any good book about travel, Houston’s wouldn’t be complete if not for the occasional astonishing account of what can happen on an airplane, particularly in some Godforsaken part of the world. Read this and you may never be comfortable on a plane again, but you’ll learn about foreign places and ideas, blatant tourist traps, people who hate Americans, and anecdotes about understanding the opposite sex.

"Between laughing at traveling and all the funny things Pam does, readers will get great insights into the places they might (or might not) want to visit."

CONTENTS MAY HAVE SHIFTED is a humorous story about being a willing sightseer, told by quick-witted Pam: a strangely familiar, normal tourist who is just a little afraid of dying because of things that have happened. Pam is driven by some internal restlessness and ecstasy she feels when traveling, so she’s willing to brave just about anything to go somewhere new (or old), usually with someone equally willing to go if not just for the sex to keep her as “the backup plan.”

Pam smokes pot with a middle-aged friend, Jude, in Jamaica because “You don’t go to Jamaica without smoking the weed.” Camping in long underwear in Alaska is one of her better dates, while fending off bears and hypothermia to feel the rush. She dances with Jamaicans in Florida and goes to Utah to experience yoga. Finding herself in some fallen monastery at high altitudes in Tibet, Pam is told that women are not allowed inside “because women have a month,” and becomes devastated at being incapable of understanding the lofty insights Tibetans possess on inner peace. 

Pam discovers what it means to be Pentecostal if one is from Texas, and what there is to do in Powell, Wyoming. She has traveled to most states in the U.S. and to every continent in the world except perhaps Antarctica, and (as of yet) is completely undaunted by the prospect of going anywhere, unabashed to hear when whole countries hate Americans, moderately abashed to think of the infections and illnesses she’s carrying because of eating native foods, and more than willing to return as long as she can to find someone to join her.

Now it might seem that Pam has some pathological obsession driving her to leave. Give it a few chapters and you may begin to understand the restless drive humans have for outrageous new experiences. Houston’s anecdotes are only somewhat serious and never bogged down by uninteresting details. Her witty thoughts on people and life really entertain.

After the first chapter, readers will recognize what a treat it is to travel for free. The best reason to read travel journals is to be a voyeur of the worst kind --- an insider on someone else’s private, awful experiences, without having to pay a single dime or endure the pain. Anyone with imagination can envision places and skip the hassle. What’s more, Pam’s thoughts are all about sex, love and loneliness…the strange things people do to each other because we’re dysfunctional. What could be better than this? Between laughing at traveling and all the funny things Pam does, readers will get great insights into the places they might (or might not) want to visit.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on February 16, 2012

Contents May Have Shifted
by Pam Houston