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- Rocky Mountain News
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- Idiot's Delight
- Oprah magazine
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Rocky Mountain News
October 16, 2003

Globe-trotting a tonic for family in a rut

Mark Jacobson is a Brooklyn-based writer whose 1998 first novel Gojiro (Japanese for Godzilla)is a cult classic. In Gojiro, Godzilla's epic quest for meaning in the post-Atomic Age is told from the monster's own point of view.

Jacobson's latest effort, 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe (Grove/Atlantic, 2003) is an entirely different book. In 1999, Jacobson and his wife, Nancy, decided their three children had become prisoners of the popular culture, which, in Jacobson's words, "seemed a terrible waste of perfectly fine DNA." There was only one recourse: regroup and take the kids far away. 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time is the story of their family's three-month trek, and spiritual journey, through Asia, India, the Middle East and Europe.

Jacobson talked with Thom Beal, deputy editor of the editorial pages.

Beal: What was it exactly that prompted you and your wife to pack up the kids and take a round-the-world trip?

Jacobson: Well, my three children had a lot of distractions--a lot. And I had this feeling things were spinning out of control. In a Freudian sense, it was that the role of the parent and popular culture had shifted places. The culture had become the superego, usurping me as the father-guardian of my own children. The culture has almost fascistlike power. When I was kid growing up in Brooklyn we had television and we turned it off. Now the culture is pervasive, fully integrated, with all these vertical and horizontal combinations. It distracts kids from what they really should be thinking and caring about. I'm a fairly liberal person. I mean, I'm somewhat of a bohemian. But I found the means of production of the popular culture so insidious that I felt I had to take some kind of action.

Beal: Your eldest daughter, Rae, was 16 at the time. Your other daughter was 12 and your son was 9. Let's get to the nitty gritty.

Jacobson: Well, with Rae especially, she's a person with a very high IQ who's never done particularly well in school. They're all in fact pretty smart. So we wanted them all to do well in school, but when they're not you're wondering why and looking for reasons why this is happening. Rae in fact had a lot of friends, she started wearing a lot of black clothes. She got a ring stuck through her nose, which made my wife break into tears.

Rosalie is a very kind-hearted person, not at all a sly or rebellious person like her sister. She doesn't fight with you; she just kind of, like, lurks around and gets what she wants. Anyway, my wife broke into tears when this nose ring appeared. My lame liberal response was, "Well, if you want to express yourself by having a ring in your nose like a cow go ahead and do it. It's your nose." So there was that, and there were all these other things, like boys.

Beal: Your son, you write, was glued to his PlayStation.

Jacobson: At that time it was Pokemon. At first I thought it was pretty neat because you could see his brain at work, cogitating the material, turning it over, analyzing the complexities. You could almost hear the gears of his mind cranking at high speed. There must be 6 million Pokemon characters and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of every one of them and their cyberworld. And I would see this and talk to him about it and think, "Wow, this guy's brain is working really well." But then I realized, "Gee, he still doesn't seem to know anything interesting or useful." It seemed all his brain cells were going to waste.

Beal: Rae did ditch the nose ring.

Jacobson: She did, much to my wife's relief. Rae had all this gray matter, but it just wasn't being put to good use either. Things weren't working out for her in school. She was a good girl, she respected her teachers, she wasn't acting up. But she was hardly doing any homework either. What she was exceptional at was having a good time with her friends. It didn't seem to me to be a question of some innate problem on her part, or that the educational establishment was failing us. And yet, somebody like Rae, she's somebody you wanted to take and physically shake. But I knew that wasn't going to work, and so I realized there had to be another kind of shakeup, something ultimately experiential.

Beal: You write that you were like Moses, preparing to cast off the bonds of the culture and lead your family out of captivity. Why a trip around the world?

Jacobson: I just couldn't accurately gauge the extent to which my kids were keeping their eyes open and actually looking at the world around them and approaching it all with what I considered to be human, and humane, values, in a way that's intelligent and on an important level discerning.

That's the problem with the popular culture, it's so predigested and my kids were walking around having memorized every single line, every single bit of dialogue, from shows like The Simpsons, which is funny no doubt about it. But every single line? When I was growing up I knew all the batting averages. It's kind of the same thing except now there's a just so much more of it. They knew every single character from all these junky movies. They even knew the movies were junky and the characters dumb. But that's what they knew. So I felt like, "Gee, you're really wasting your time here, why are you doing this?"

And I felt they knew almost nothing about the world outside of Brooklyn and Manhattan. The schools don't teach the world very well anyway. Related to that, I kept seeing and feeling the impact of the vast entertainment complex on our lives, in the arena of politics, for example. We've got a president telling us to "Bring 'em on," you know, just as if he'd heard it in a movie. It wasn't however any one thing. It wasn't an epiphany. It was more like an accumulation of intellectual and emotional insults.

Beal: You and your wife had traveled.

Jacobson: We had traveled around the world together in 1980 before we got married. We had tickets called "Around the World in 80 Days" on now defunct Pan Am. So we thought it might be strategic to visit some of the places that we'd gone to before and see how they'd changed. I knew deep inside that The Simpsons, template wouldn't apply in India, Cambodia or Israel. The kids would have to think out of the box. Plus, we were celebrating 20 years of marriage, we had these three people we were responsible for. It all seemed to come together and make sense.

Beal: None of your kids were very keen on going.

Jacobson: That's a fair comment. The other two didn't know what to think. But Rae felt she had the most to lose by spending three months with her parents. She's pretty eloquent on this topic, which she writes about extensively in the book.

Beal: Rae is in fact a talented young writer. The emergence of this is one of the results of your trip. What was the idea behind her contributions to the book?

Jacobson: I felt it would be unfair to write about your children unless they got to talk about you.

Beal: Your trip began in Thailand, but the book actually opens in India with a description of your family visit to the Burning Ghat in the city of Varanasi, where Hindus cremate their dead along the banks of the Gangis River. Could you read the opening passage?

Jacobson: Sure. (Reading) So there we were, the world travelers, watching dead people on fire. I could tell the Burning Ghat was not making it as a family fun destination. The kids were not digging it. 'This is horrible, disgusting,' critiqued the then 16-year-old Rae. 'Bad,' chimed in the 12-year-old Rosalie. 'Really bad,' assented Billy, 9 at the time. The three of them were united on this point. They were all going to throw up if we didn't get out of there immediately.

Beal: It's actually uphill from there. For example, your journey takes you to Cambodia and Tuol Sleng, the former Khmer Rouge torture center that is now a museum. You and Rae made a pilgrimage there, which Rae writes about in one of her chapters.

Jacobson: I wouldn't say it's your typical traditional family vacation destination. But, like you, I had been there before to do a story and it's a powerful, powerful place. Rae has never before contemplated the potential for humans to do such horrible things to each other. She's not a morbid person, but it affected her in such a way that she appreciates much more I think what we have, how lucky we are to be living at this time and this place. Once we were back home, she made it a personal project of telling her classmates in her history classes about the history of Cambodia and the atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge.

Beal: At one point in your trip you're standing at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. You're contemplating the Wall, your trip and your life. And all the sudden you wish that you and your wife had more kids.

Jacobson: On the one hand, it was fantastic to be in the cradle of religious belief. All these people so committed. On the other hand, many of them were trying to kill each other. I was trying to put this all together at the Wall and thinking, OK, I'm very nervous about my parenting ability and I worry my wife and I have done right by our children. Are they going to be sitting on the couch for the rest of their lives watching TV or playing video games? Or will they be good, reflective people and productive citizens? I was thinking of these various religious groups and sects and how they are in almost constant conflict, but also how my family isn't part of any particular group at all.

I mean, we're American Jews from New York. But actually, the only group that really matters is our family. And I thought, "We're not so bad, you know, we're actually pretty good." And I felt an affirmation that I had done OK as a parent. The kids seemed nice. They were nice people. They open doors for little old ladies. They have decent table manners. They are good-hearted. If they saw somebody lying in the street injured they would help them and then tell a good joke. So in that instance at the Wall I felt I hadn't done such a bad job. There were plenty of imperfections of course. But I began to think three children maybe isn't really a lot of children after all, and if we haven't been such bad parents maybe we should have more. Like 20 children so there could be 100 of us Jacobsons, and it wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to the world.

Beal: How did your trip change your family?

Jacobson: Well, I think it made us feel a lot more relaxed with each other. We're closer; we're much closer as a family. And you know, we remember these strange situations, like in Thailand when we saw a bus at the bottom of a ravine that had just crashed and people weren't helping each other; they were stealing the tires off the bus. And we felt like, "Wow look at all this; the world is just a gigantic place full of all kinds of strange things." But then we also felt more secure because we're in our own little nuclear family spaceship traveling along. Now I know it's running pretty well, though maybe it needs a little tuneup now and then.


Travel and Leisure Family
Winter 2003-04

A Truly Global Family

Mark Jacobson's 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time is more than an account of one family's three-month odyssey in search of "The Real." As the author and his wife Nancy drag their brood--two daughters and son, ages 16, 12, and 9--from Kathmandu to Jerusalem and beyond, the eldest, Rae, supplies wisecracking counterpoints to Dad's hilarious riffing about the "cathode domination" of popular culture. And Jacobson's is indeed funny--like S.J. Perelman, another jaundiced chronicler of family travel, only with a lot of heart and soul. (George Kalogerakis)


Sacramento News and Review
August 28, 2003

"We know people suck, that our extinction is the world's only chance," Mark Jacobson declares at one point during his 12,000-mile journey around the world. "It's just that when you have children, you need a little optimism." Tell me about it. As a relatively young 20-something father supposedly in tune with the zeitgeist and all, I occasionally ask myself, say, after watching one of W's press conferences or reading the day's headlines, "What the hell was I thinking bringing life into this crazy, screwed-up world?"

In 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe, Mark Jacobson addresses this question and quite a bit more. However, I think it's fair to say that Dr. Laura won't be quoting from his book anytime soon. The one-time contributing editor to Rolling Stone, and the author of Gojiro and Everyone and No One, Jacobson is an aged hipster out to reclaim family values for the rest of us. Utilizing a three-month family journey around the world as his narrative vessel of choice, Jacobson's latest book conveys a genuine spirit of family and the secular faith it inspires.

Fancying himself a sort of post-modern prophet of the humanist persuasion, Jacobson explains one of the many reasons for the journey: "Like Moses, I would lead my children from pop bondage. Because it wasn't enough to sit around congratulating ourselves because half of Rosie's school was Russian and Billy's class list contained names like Omar, Juan, Natasha and Amidou. Brooklyn was full of names, multi-culti hues; that's why we liked living there. But with each passing moment, it mattered less which far-off land these kids came from. They were playing Wrestlemania 2000 and collecting Pokémon cards like everyone else. Their parents were probably doing the same." Somewhere out there in The World, Jacobson tells his not-so-merry band of fellow travelers, real, tangible, downright-dirty diversity and the magic it promises can still be experienced firsthand.

Jacobson uses his children as a cultural barometer and notes, with much horror, their responses to the numerous exotic locales they visit. "For the hundredth time since we'd arrived in The World," he writes early on, in India, "I raged against their lack of wonder. ... They had no zeal to peek behind the wizard's curtain, to see what was really up. Spoiled brats. Primitive dimbulbs. ... How did we manage to bring up such morons?" As symbols of American entitlement, Jacobson's kids receive the occasional spanking.

But Jacobson's kids aren't all bad, and he knows it. Sure, they prefer to watch Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx in their hotel room rather than join Dad on a walk through Deer Park, where the Buddha delivered his first sermon. And of course, Billy, age 9, took a bit too much glee in pointing out the fire extinguisher mounted within a few feet of the living descendent of the burning bush. "You never know," he chuckled hysterically.

Toward the end of the book, however, recalling standing before the chaos at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Jacobson writes, "I wished my wife and I had had more kids. ... My wife and I should have had 25 kids--50, maybe more." This brings us to the real guts of 12,000 Miles: For Jacobson, breeding is the ultimate act of faith. More than an investment in tomorrow, the decision to bring life into the world can be interpreted as the supreme revolutionary act, a radical affirmation of life.

Neither sentimentalist claptrap nor chic deconstructionist gobbledygook written by yet another lonely grad student out to historicize away the family's soul, 12,000 Miles is a sincere book written by a very funny dad. An ambitious work artfully cloaked in the vestments of the clown, 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time is sure to give hope to even the most jaded parent.


Idiot's Delight
August 23, 2003

This just in from Vin Scelsa (on whose show Mark and Rae appeared 8/23). Vin, for those who don't know, is the last of the great FM deejays, as evidenced by this honorific from the Ramones, the world's greatest band: "Vin Scelsa's on the radio/ Ramones are hangin' out in Kokomo." (from It's Not My Place, In The 9 to 5 World)

Vin says on the WFUV website:

Journalist/novelist Mark Jacobson and his daughter Rae Jacobson discussed their current non-fiction "travelogue"--12,000 Miles In The Nick Of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates The Globe. ›Mark (author of one of the all-time favorite ID novels, Gojiro) wrote most of this book about an exotic trip around the world he and his wife took with their 3 teenage children in the summer of 1999.›His oldest daughter, Rae, also a writer, supplied "additional commentary" in the book, in the form of a series of essays entitled "Talkback/Backtalk"--and did so on Idiot's Delight as well.

"Semi-dysfunctional" is the key phrase here in the Jacobsons' travel adventures. Otherwise one might think this book is some kind of la-la PG-rated Disneyesque "family" adventure type of thing. ›No way!

This ain't no middle American trip around the world! These folks are from Brooklyn, by way of the Lower East Side (the kids lived their early years on St. Mark's Place). They've seen their share of "interesting" things--but nothing like what they saw in the journey described in this book! But ultimately this is so much more than a "travel book"--it is a moving, funny, touching meditation about family, connections, the passage of time, the ties that bind ... and the ties that sooner or later fall away.

Oprah Magazine
September 2003

Getting the hell out of here and showing the kids the real world may not be the universal fantasy of American parents, but it probably ought to be. Alarmed by their daughter's collapsing academic performance, and their son's addiction to sneaker catalogs, one couple decided to actually do the deed. The Jacobsons of Brooklyn told their children to pack up and headed to the Far East. The happy result is Mark Jacobson's 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time. Jacobson is a very funny writer, whether recounting his daughter's response to botched Hindu funeral pyres or his son's guffaws at a fire extinguisher tucked away next to Moses' burning bush. He also weaves in enough memoir--his immigrant grandparents, his hippie wanderings pre-children, bringing up babies in New York's East Village--to tie in the current adventure of what it means to be an open-minded family in an increasingly close-minded world. Jacobson neither expects nor wants his children to be miraculously transformed by the journey. But traveling the world's shrines with his unruly clan reminded him that cherishing the moment and considering the lillies aren't just the insights of Buddhas and walkers-on-water.

Creative Loafing On-line
August 2003

New Yorker Jacobson despaired over what the shallowness of American techno-pop culture might do to his kids. His answer? The ultimate road trip. He took his family around the world. Specifically, to some of the greatest, longest lasting works of the human race, in places like Nepal, France, India, the Middle East--all the time reliving old travels with his wife in their pre-kids, hippie days. They stay in seriously Third World accommodations, get to really know people who are utterly different from themselves, constantly explore the differences between East and West . . . and argue nearly every minute they're awake. This is an alternately enthralling and maddening book about a family of hardcore individualists and eccentrics whose search for something more than snapshots from their travels reminds us of how exhilarating, and difficult this world really can be.

St. Petersburg Times
August 17, 2003

This is more than a travelogue of the comedy and horrors. Against the backdrop of the places visited, the sensory assault, the history and the reactions of his children to the foreignness that sometimes repelled, sometimes delighted them, Jacobson takes us on an inner trip with wry social commentary and ruminations on the the nature of a family as it navigates the cross-generational divide, and what it means to be a parent.

Memphis Flyer
July 3, 2003

Jacobson worried that his intelligent New York children were jaded, narrow-minded, and ignorant due to the easy lifestyle Americans are afforded. So he and his family visit the farthest extremities the world has to offer. After the account of the Burning Ghat, Jacobson relates their visit to Cambodia, where Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge eliminated nearly a quarter of the population not so long ago. At this point, I really thought Jacobson a fool and wondered when this crazy family fun was going to end. However, as the story progresses, you learn that for every terrifying experience the family also witnesses great beauty. They see in Cambodia the horrors that humans can inflict on one another, but then they meet the jolly Boudin people, generous, charming nomads who treat the Jacobson family as old friends. They stand and watch carcasses burning but also stand on Freak Street in Nepal and listen to the chanting of monks drifting down the hillside. Jacobson achieves his ultimate goal--for his children and the reader--by demonstrating the sublimity of the world. Jacobson hopes to impress upon his children a sense of global continuity, which will let them know that life, theirs and others', is not lived in vain. Because there is love, there is heartache; because there is life, there is death. The world works in cycles, and while some stages are terrifying, they are integral to the whole. The book reflects the same idea. Chapters that begin in a disturbing way leave you awestruck at the end. His attention to his children has paid off: They are kind and respectful of others. Shocked out of their comfort zone, the Jacobsons will make you grateful for your own.

June 17, 2003

Capturing the Jacobsons
A journalist takes his family around the world to rescue them from Cocoa Puffs, cell phones and third reruns of Buffy

By Elizabeth Einstein

How do you keep your kids from turning into McDonald's-worshipping, videogame-addled, must-see-TV-addicted zombies? If you're journalist Mark Jacobson, you drag them kicking and screaming from their couch in Brooklyn on a three-month trip around the world.

Having reveled in the unusual (smoking a joint with Bob Marley, for instance, or going for midnight sails with caviar poachers in the Caspian Sea, or driving 32 hours to see the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala) on behalf of magazines like Esquire, Outside and Rolling Stone, Jacobson never went in for typical summer holidays. He and his wife, Nancy, had always avoided theme-park vacations, preferring instead to drive through the bayous and Cajun prairies of southern Louisiana or dig for fossils in the South Dakota Badlands. But their kids seemed stuck in a cultural wasteland. So in the summer of 2000, only something truly foreign would do: Thailand, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Egypt, Jordan and Israel and the rickety planes, trains, rental cars and rickshaws that got them there.

12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time is Jacobson's account of their journey (with occasional "Talkback/Backtalk" chapters written by his daughter Rae), a book that unfolds less as a travelogue than an entertaining--and at times frustrating--story of the family's struggle to keep pop culture and entropy at bay.

Jacobson doesn't need to make much of a case for his initial revolt, as exasperation with what he calls "idiot culture" is something nearly anyone can relate to. But it wasn't just the full-court press of 21st-century Americana driving him nuts. Jacobson and his wife were also reeling from what every parent dreads: a teenager, under their roof. Anľis Nin said adolescence is like a "cactus," and their eldest daughter was getting pricklier by the day. Rae cut nearly as many classes as she attended after being accepted into Manhattan's prestigious LaGuardia High (a.k.a. the "Fame" school). She spent her time wandering around the city (and getting her nose pierced) by day and sneaking into downtown clubs at night. No amount of cajoling, threats, speeches or discipline seemed to help--she Didn't Want To Talk About It. Turns out she didn't want to go around the world, either--"my teenager social butterfly insecure side … said ‘God, if you go you'll miss everything, you'll be separated from all your friends for three months," she writes (and the reader either sighs in recognition, or seethes with indignation). But bailing on the family wasn't an option. It was The World or a militant summer boarding school.

And so the trip shaped up as a lifeboat of sorts, a way to keep the family from drifting farther apart. Instead, they planned on drifting together.

Ultimately, we're shortchanged on a prognosis: it would take more than the book's breezy 250-plus pages to determine the efficacy of the Jacobson prescription. But rattling around Asia, the Middle East and Europe on a relative shoestring is radical therapy--and it's an amusingly chronicled and appealing ride. It only takes 23 hours or so on a plane to rip the family from its moorings. The book's first stop is the funeral pyres of Varanasi, where even seen-it-all Jacobson is disturbed by the sight of dismembered corpses floating down the Ganges. Torn between his bohemian dedication to the value of experience above all else and the sight of his 9-year-old coming face-to-decaying-face with a rotting body, he decides to shield his children: "In search of The Real," he writes, "it was important to screen out the Too Real."

There's more second-guessing at places like Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, where a mere 25 years ago the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed thousands of fellow Cambodians whose skulls now line its walls. "My wife and I [had] discussed this trip as partly a mnemonic exercise, to implant in the kids' tender minds a better class of memories than total recall of ‘Buffy' episodes," Jacobson writes. "In the wake of Tuol Sleng, we wondered about this strategy. Was it really right to puncture the however deplorable media cocoon with this ‘reality'?" Rae's response leaves the question murkier than ever. "I will never see anything like that again if I can help it," she begins--but then, perhaps unwittingly, makes a case for having done so: "Words cannot describe this place; pictures won't take you there and make you feel it. I'm still nauseous. I wonder if things will ever seem the same after this."

Such decisions along the way were clearly difficult, but fortunately for the Jacobsons--and the reader--the journey isn't all blood and guts and mortality. The family makes it to happier places: the peaceful Thai island of Ko Samet, Kathmandu, which "offered its special scent of romance," and Jordan's ancient city of Petra, at which point they "formally acknowledged [they] were having a good time ... At Petra, [their] planets lined up in harmonic convergence," Jacobson writes.

But did all that exotic, forced-family bonding erase any cultural pickling or declaw the demons of adolescence? Since the book doesn't have much of an epilogue, the Jacobson authors agreed to meet me in their old neighborhood, the East Village, to offer themselves up as Exhibit A.

It was obviously no practiced PR date or rehearsal for their book tour. Rae, now 19, was a half hour late for our 1 p.m. meeting (Jacobson's call from the restaurant woke her from a sound sleep.) But when she did arrive, the only trace of sullen teen was in her all-black ensemble: miniskirt, shredded fishnets, leg warmers, and a sleeveless Sun Studio T shirt. (Too Cool.) Belying her hipster outfit, Rae seemed anything but aloof or superior: she was articulate, self-possessed and entirely comfortable in her own skin--and her father's presence.

In what may not be a conventional happy ending, she has dropped out of college after only one semester, claiming the decision stemmed not from any depression or rebellion but from a desire to excel. "I want to go back and finish school, but not until I know I can do well," she explains. "I want to be good at something. If I go now, I know I won't succeed--I'm not ready--and what will that prove? It'll just be a waste of time and money. So for now, I want to try something else."

"Something else" turns out to be living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, working on her first novel (so far, she's got 60 pages down) and considering some magazine writing, like her dad--who seems almost alarmingly mellow about it all. Where's the guy whose offspring made him blue in the face? The father who "was on her case, screaming about her being lazy, not trying"? The father who, in a Rae-induced rage, kicked a hole in the wall of their Park Slope apartment?

"She has all the qualities in myself I want to strangle," Jacobson admits with a smile. "It's frustrating, yeah. But you just have to relax about it. What can you do?"


Maybe they've both grown up a little. Maybe it started with their trip around the world. But whatever the reason, it's heartening to see a father and daughter with such a sweet (but not saccharine) rapport--he ribs her about oversleeping, she's apologetic but finally rolls her eyes, smiling the whole time. They talk about shared musical tastes, laugh recalling a fellow writer's warning about marijuana--"she says it's addictive" (more eye rolling)--and chat about the Steve Earle concert they're going to later that night, just the two of them. While each admits to having needed a little breathing room following the trip, father and daughter confess to being almost embarrassingly close these days.

But before booking any family tickets to Asia, know this: formerly sweet, even-tempered middle child Rosie--she of the angelic smile on the book jacket--seems to have taken a turn for the … nettlesome. "Oh my God," Rae breathes, "she's 16 now, and she's a thousand times worse than I was."

"Well, come on. Not a thousand ..." Jacobson hedges. Rosie's a ska punk girl. And--surprise!--she hates high school, with a particularly feverish vengeance ("It's this enormous place in a Hasidic neighborhood ..." Jacobson says with a rueful chuckle.) "Put it this way: she's incredibly aggressive. Really. Aggressive. Rae used to bob-and-weave her way through an argument. Rosie tears full speed ahead." But at least she's not a pop-culture princess, hanging out at McDonald's, wearing Abercrombie & Fitch and listening to Britney Spears.


The New Yorker
June 12, 2003

Mark Jacobson embarks on a "grand, somewhat nutty gesture," a three-month-long circumnavigation of the globe with his wife and three kids: "We'd come all this way to escape the enveloping ersatz of the fetid American experience." He wants his children to learn from the world's unpredictability. Caught on the Ganges at the start of the monsoon season, Jacobson presses on, convinced that a circumnavigation only succeeds through forward motion. "Like Moses," he writes, "I would lead my children from pop bondage."

June 1, 2003

Now these are some dedicated parents: concerned that their three children (ages 9, 12, and 16) were becoming too indoctrinated by the dumbed-down world of television, they packed up and took the kids on a round-the-world adventure unlike any other. Forget the exotic locales, the splendid hotels, the first-class meals: Let's spend three months traveling through Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, India, Angkor Wat, or the pyramids of Giza, or Jerusalem. This is the "real world," not that scrubbed-clean, accessible-the-masses garbage the kids were watching on TV. The book is very funny--the trip doesn't go exactly as the parents plan--but it is hugely educational, history presented as a grand adventure. The kids learned a lot, and so do we. Makes you want to chuck everything and head for far-flung places.



Praise from readers of Elle magazine:

It's the story of one family's summer journey around the world for the sake of the children. (It was high time to escape the "idiot culture" in which Jacobson's three kids were being raised.) The book can also be described as a time-travelogue, as the author zooms back and forth between this trip and when he and his wife visited the same places on their honeymoon. I loved the chapters authored by Rae, the oldest daughter, as she gives her pained perspective on the insane and inane trip she is forced to take with her family. 12,000 Miles . . . is a loving tribute to Jacobson's precocious and hyperarticulate children; their adventures are highly entertaining, and Jacobson's tone is light and humorous but always sincere. His idea of family bonding is having everyone recall the trippy dreams that are triggered by the anti-malaria pills they take weekly. At the same time, he reveals lessons he learned along the way about his children and about how people in other countries perceive Americans. I also enjoyed the history lessons that accompany each destination and the stories of the people they encountered.

--Sohnia W. Hong, Nashville

This book demonstrates the ironic result of travel: that a trip to the farthest corners of the earth may provide the traveler with more insight and understanding of the people and things closest to home than of any new wonder encountered in the world at large. For Jacobson, this means a deeper appreciation for his three children as individuals and a more critical look at himself. At times, he seems a little too eager to show off his enlightenment, and the word "hippie" is used too often for the younger reader, but these are just specks of annoyance easily dusted from an otherwise inspired trip that we are privileged to share.

--Stephani J., Ballard, Wilmington, Delaware

This book is about so much more than a family's vacation around the world. Jacobson is honest and insightful in telling how he views fatherhood, family, youth, interpersonal relationships, and societies around the world. Both his humor and the profound connections he makes come across as effortless, genuine, and fresh.

--Sylvia Covarrubias, Palo Alto, California

I actually enjoyed the chapters written by Rae, the oldest daughter, the most. I think she has a future as a writer. I thought I might like to travel with this family.

--Susanne Chaney, Fairfax, California

I was leery of this book from the beginning. It appeared to be filled with social commentary about peoples and places I know nothing about (i.e., the deforestation on the Gangetic Plain). But I got caught up in all of it--particularly the writer's relationship with his oldest daughter, my own place in the family hierarchy. My favorite chapters in the book are the ones written by Rae. So skip chapter two, ignore the effusive references to icons from a bygone age (sorry, Mark!), and experience this family's journey around the world.

--Jennifer Shehorn, Fresno, California

Viewed post-9/11, these adventures are a nostalgic look at what the world's McCulture has done to ancient traditions. Jacobson's insights into his children's perspective and how the adventure changed them all combine a father's fond memories with a journalistic eye for detail.

--Joanne Choi, Boston


Praise for Gojiro:

If God had a sense of humor, Gojiro would be the bible. Gojiro is destined for cult immortality. This is Candide for the post-Hiroshima age, a cure for the terror of pink-tailed nuclei. The B flick collides with Stephen Hawking to produce this tender, funny, chaotic tale of a monster and his boy.

--Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

Gojiro is "a gorgeous invention: beneath its armor of raucous wit is a sweet-souled tale of innocents abroad in a terrible world."


A comic masterpiece of tragic proportions . . . a visionary novel. Only one other writer has Mark Jacobson's ability to spin a yarn at the speed of light: Pynchon.

--Los Angeles Times Book Review

Profoundly strange, often hilarious . . . an impressive debut.

--The New York Times

One of the oddest and perhaps the best monster books ever written.

--Arthur Salm, The San Diego Tribune




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