Matt Forney
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Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova by Neil Skywalker

aroundtheworldin80girlsNOTE: This is a review of the discontinued first edition of 80 Girls. Click here to read my review of the second edition.

I wanted to like this book. I really did.

Neil Skywalker’s first release, a memoir of his travels around the world, has all the ingredients for a classic. The set-up is one manospherians will find instantly familiar: after a lifetime of passivity and grinding celibacy, Neil threw caution to the wind and hit the road with nothing but a backpack and his life savings. Along the way, he not only laid a lot of women, he became an online entrepreneur, got embroiled in love triangles, nearly got killed a few times, and more. Not only does Neil relate his amazing adventures in Around the World in 80 Girls, he also details his methods of picking up girls and making money on the road. How could a book like this not be balls-swellingly awesome?

Answer: horrifyingly bad editing.

Neil is not a native English speaker, and despite 80 Girls being a finished, commercial product, it reads like a first draft that was stitched together in one night. Typos, malaprops, run-on sentences and punctuation errors abound, working in concert to kill any atmosphere the book tries to build up. Combined with this is the book’s repeated violation of the most important rule in storytelling: show, don’t tell. Rather than show us his crazy adventures through dialogue and whatnot, Neil flatly tells us in nonstop monologuing that fails to engage the reader. Here’s an example paragraph showing why 80 Girls is such a slog to get through:

My back was still sensitive but not painful anymore. The first six kilometer I walked with a Swiss girl I forgot the name of. The sunrise amongst the misty mountains was amazing. We arrived at the spot where the climb to Mount Ngauruhoe, the volcanic mountain used as a model of Mount Doom, the mountain where our little hobbit friend had to toss the ring in to destroy the evil powers of Sauron. The Swiss girl looked at the mountain and she said was already too tired to climb it. I tried to convince her but she chickened out. Now I had to climb it myself, there weren’t many other climbers around, a few small groups of friends and some couples climbing together. I literally told the Swiss girl that I would climb Mount Doom or die trying. The mountain isn’t even that high at twenty–two hundred meter but was very steep and the loose volcanic ash makes every step a chore. The sides were nearly sixty degrees steep and it hard to climb. There wasn’t really a path up and you had to climb over some parts made of rock and you had to use both your arms as well to climb up. In the mean while my thoughts drifted of to my sister who had gone through a rough period with her health and is know for her toughness. She used to travel a lot too and is an even bigger fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy than me.

This paragraph highlights another problem with 80 Girls: it’s too rushed. Neil hops from locale to locale at breakneck speed, throwing characters and stories at you so quickly you can’t keep track of them. As a result, nothing sticks with you longer than the time it takes you to read it. With each chapter, I struggled to recall what happened in the previous one. This becomes a big problem in certain spots, as recurring characters keep popping up and you’ll struggle to remember who the hell they are, such as Neil’s on-and-off again Russian girlfriend Julia.

The terrible editing combined with the jolting narrative made reading the book a slog; even as rushed as it is, 80 Girls goes on for entirely too long. It’s a shame, because Neil’s story is not only pretty incredible in its own right, his little asides on picking up girls and backpacking are a nice bonus. Were I Neil, I’d fix Around the World in 80 Girls in these ways:

  1. Divide it up into multiple volumes. A three-year long trip is too long a period to compress into one book, especially considering the insane shenanigans that Neil got into. Make 80 Girls into a trilogy with each installment focusing on one year.
  2. Hire a proofreader, preferably one whose native language is English.

Despite my criticisms of the book, given Neil’s penchant for storytelling (and his awesome stories), I’m not willing to pan it completely. If you’re willing to wade through miles of typos and Kerouacian monologuing, Around the World in 80 Girls is worth a read. Otherwise, skip it.

Click here to buy Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova.

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