What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
Three Rivers Press, 2014, 304 pages
Drawing from the same well of humor that provides lines for shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Kristin Newman brings her international travel stories to the page in What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding. After several failed relationships, Newman sets out on many trips between show writing season and pursues short-term flings with whatever local men are available — or not — in the places she visits, which she calls “vacationships.” While for some journeys Newman brings along a friend or two, she often travels alone throughout her twenties and thirties, allowing for plenty of opportunity for self-discovery and global awareness.
Despite Newman’s enormous privilege to do all of this traveling, she’s seemingly unaware of it. Newman regularly complains that her friends can’t join her, blind to the amount of money and time away from a regular job it takes to travel the way she does. She goes out of her way to stay at inexpensive hostels and motels, which she uses as a strategy to meet other young, single people. This leads her to make comments about the poor conditions of her stays.
Arguably worse is Newman’s tendency to engage in offhand racism (which she admits is racist, but ultimately does nothing about it and even seems to find some pride in it) and general cultural unawareness. Although Newman has these many opportunities to explore the world and learn from other cultures, she is quick to point out things that are “weird” or otherwise lesser-than her American experience. Newman eventually recounts a specific event in which she declines a date with an Asian man through a dating app simply because he is Asian. Newman has minimal shame in admitting this — and arguably none at all, given her willingness to not only tell the story once, but refer back to it once or twice in later pages. She underlines this with a few blatantly anti-Asian jokes. Asians receive the brunt of Newman’s disrespect, but her general racism is evident in phrases that suggest otherness and exoticism like “gorgeously colored people” without many other descriptors, as if their whole being is tied up in the color their skin.
Readers might expect Newman’s book to be mildly offensive, like many sitcoms are. However, her offense does not stop at racism. There are also moments of homophobia and slutshaming — even in the same breath. “The nice thing about a gay club is there is no possible way to be the sluttiest person in the room,” she writes. This is par for the course for Newman. She regularly inserts comments that slutshame, claiming it’s okay because she’s the most promiscuous person she knows, while also putting down individuals who choose a more monogamous lifestyle and even telling of instances where she tries to get those individuals to move into a lifestyle that better matches and suits hers. Newman doesn’t even pause at rape jokes.
The following paragraph contains a spoiler, if you’re concerned about that kind of thing here — and it’s a big one, but something I feel is important to discuss given everything we’ve gone over at this point.
Newman isn’t a likable person, and the unshocking ending only serves to reinforce heteronormativity and a dangerous dependency on the patriarchy. Despite Newman’s past, it is a man and her relationship with him that ultimately saves her from herself, if she chooses to view her promiscuous lifestyle as destructive (which, as an undercurrent, it seems she does). She is only “cured” of her own personality (distasteful as it may be in its racism, slutshaming, and so on) when she is essentially forced into playing the role of the wife and mother. And I’ll just add another sentence of words here so the last words don’t stand out and inadvertently spoil anyone who cares about being spoiled and mistakenly sees the last words of the actual paragraph because they’re the last words.
Okay. Spoiler over.
The one redeeming quality of Newman’s memoir is a theme she returns to regularly, though perhaps doesn’t follow as closely as she might think. Her philosophy when traveling is this: Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. This is a bit more nuanced than “when in Rome,” I think, and provides not just for doing as the locals do, but also doing things as opportunities present themselves — as both the time and place are right to do them. And as you are right to do them. This is a great takeaway for a travel memoir, and I only wish Newman had been more conscious of herself as a representative of America in her travels and as a writer when later relating these stories.
I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #8, “Read a travel memoir,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.
❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤