Arm Chair Traveler: Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven


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August 3rd 2010
Published: August 3rd 2010
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Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven, Susan Jane Gilman. Memoir.
2009, Grand Central Publishing.
$13.99
If you even think about traveling, you should read Susan Gilman’s Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven. Set in 1986, Gilman tells us of her around the world trip, an idea hatched in the inspiring hour of 3am with her college mate Claire from the slogan on the menu of a pancake house.

Beginning in China the moment it reopened its borders to backpackers, the two confront the harsh realities of “roughing it” in an overpopulated Communist country. While nostalgic for American toilets and the hearty homeland cuisine of burgers and fries, Gilman and her friend straddle the divide of insanity and authentic experience.

Undress was a relief for this reader, who was tuckered out of all the travelogues written by women who only decided to be adventurous or find themselves post-break up or divorce. No, Gilman is refreshing in a genre that holds so much potential for the telling and marketing of the unique experiences of women travelers. This is one of the most gripping and exciting books I have read pertaining to travel yet.


Her mind set is relative to all those post-grads out to experience the world or to anyone who is a beginner at being abroad. Her observations are sharp in describing the social atmosphere of the backpacking subculture, the competitiveness of "roughing it" amongst them, the characters one meet along the way, the quirky situations, the immediate trust in strangers for companionship or a little comfort are all dead on.

Not to mention, her story left me stunned, her pro-action left me awestruck, and the end left me relieved that it was her and not me on that trip. What begins as young and catty melodrama becomes more and more suspicious further on. Claire, her travel partner, begins to make Gilman and fellow readers doubt ourselves about whether she is losing her sanity or there is a reason to all these furious outbursts and paranoia. The suspense is killer, the confusion in its escalation is daunting.

Written with only the voice of Susan Jane Gilman, it holds the New Yorker’s same style as previously demonstrated in Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and Kiss my Tiara; comical, sartorialist, cynical. In two words; hilarious and thrilling. As Oprah says, completely “unputdownable”.

So, if you are preparing to travel, looking to travel, interested in travel, or just want to read a damn good book amongst all the heap of sap stories and sordid tales that line the shelves, I give you Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven. A sure fire adventure that is no where near as expensive as the real thing.

Keep up with this author abroad on her blog: http://susanjanegilman.blogspot.com/

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10th January 2012

Truth is stranger than fiction
Just finished reading this book. At first I thought it was going to be another backpacking adventure; just more difficult...but I didn't know how difficult it was going to get. Unbelievable...but she couldn't have made it up.
17th January 2012

I know! I was so excited to find out it wasn't just another divorced woman finding herself through travel. The world already has an "EAT, PRAY, LOVE". What are you reading now?
17th January 2012

What I'm reading now
I'm reading Tom Clancey's latest book "Locked On," and am about to buy through Kindle "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World" by Michael Lewis. It's abut the abuse of easy credit around the world from 2002-8. Combines my interest in travel and finances. I usually read a chapter from one book and then a chapter from the others, and back and forth. I can have three or four going at the same time...usually different genres so I don't get them confused.
18th January 2012

Nice! I do something similar. I am finishing You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers and right in the middle of BossyPants by Tina Fey. I would highly recommend both of them. Any suggestions for my next book? I like biographies, travel memoirs, a lot of non-fiction. But I devour books, so anything you think has great style please send my way!
19th January 2012

Favorite Travel Writers
My favorite, who writes with abundant humor, is J. Maarten Troost who wrote "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" about his time on Vanuatu, "Getting Stoned with Savages" about his time on Fiji, and "Lost on Planet China" about his nine months of backpacking around China...much different that the book above as it is after China developed. Other books I have read about China, either before or after my trip there are: Gavin Menzie's "1421" about Chinese fleets sailing around the world in 1421, "1434" about the Chinese providing 4000 years of their knowledge to the Venetians and Florentines in 1434 thus kick starting the Rennaisance, both books questioning our Eurocentric view of human civiliazation and thus very controversial, and "The Lost Empire of Atlantis" which makes the case for the Minoan Civiliazation being Atlantis. Also about China are Kissinger's "On China" which is a must read for those who want to understand the Chinese government's worldview, and Collin Thubron's "Shadow of the Silk Road" which tells of his experiences on the road from Xian to Turkey. I have always wanted to take this journey, but think I may be a bit rough for me, as would the Cairo to Cape Town trek...but who knows. A recent biography I read was Candice Miller's "A River of Doubt" about President Roosevelt's journey down an unchartered river in western Brazil at the end of his life. Actually, I like most biographies about Teddy as he was a most amazing man; an Republican who became a progressive in the best sense of the word. Other favorite authors are Tom Clancy, James Doss (a humorous Hillerman writing Southwestern murder mysteries), P.J. O'Rourke, Thomas Friedman, Jared Diamond, Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics books, Malcolm Gladwell...well, now you know why I had to get a Kindle. Sorry for flooding you.

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