Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Central Valley Doesn't Stink

Writers cannot please, nor appeal to everyone. I recently received feedback on my Northern California: An Explorer's Guide from a woman who lives in Modesto. She said that I misrepresented the Central Valley, by presenting the information in a snarky, insensitive way, highlighting the pastoral smells rather than the cultural highlights of California's Central Valley.

Of course to her, I did present the region poorly. She lives there and loves it. She has friends and community and all the ingredients of home, regardless of how this traveler perceives Modesto. And surely there are highlights, scenic spots, worthy treats for all palates, including theater, poetry slams, and international cuisine.

However, I live in San Francisco and love it here. As a guidebook writer, it is my job to siphon through all the possible journeys you will take in this region and present you with the worthy trip for your taste buds. Yet, on all levels you are traveling with me, using my perception. That is the glory (and occasional) problem with using and depending on a guidebook. You may not have the same worldview as the writer, food tastes, inherent belief system, but you are getting her opinion, her eyes on a locale.

I write this to encourage you to travel with your own eyes. To use the book as it is meant to be used: as a catalogue of information, painstakingly researched by this humble writer and her family (A writer who doesn't mean to insult or be snarky about any person's hometown). We will not agree on everything. Nor do I want us to. That is part of the conversation. I use your feedback (and the generous responses like the woman from Modesto) to update information and get to know towns with your eyes as well.

Writing a guidebook is ultimately a group effort; a give and take between writer and reader and place. And while I may (and will) get information wrong, my book also informs you of a restaurant or hike you never knew existed; a town's charms; a region's quirks. Together we can get to know Northern California's highs and lows even better. And maybe we'll learn to look past our various smells and appreciate all towns--big and small.