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3.40  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,024 Ratings  ·  933 Reviews
A cross-country hitchhiking journey with America’s most beloved weirdo

John Waters is putting his life on the line. Armed with wit, a pencil-thin mustache, and a cardboard sign that reads "I’m Not Psycho," he hitchhikes across America from Baltimore to San Francisco, braving lonely roads and treacherous drivers. But who should we be more worried about, the delicate film dir
Hardcover, 323 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2014)
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Preston Pairo Growing up outside Baltimore in the 1970's, I was introduced to John Waters' films when I was in high school by a friend who was so far ahead of the…moreGrowing up outside Baltimore in the 1970's, I was introduced to John Waters' films when I was in high school by a friend who was so far ahead of the rest of us in his exposure to art and cinema it's even more startling now looking back on it.

Waters' early films never shocked or offended me (far from it), but I never found them that entertaining. The same can be said for his later, more mainstream efforts. But while his movies never engaged me, Waters' personality did, and I have always found him to be a great guest on talk shows.

Because I enjoy hearing Waters tell a story, I listened to his excellent narration of the audiobook of Carsick instead of reading the print version, and recommend others consider this approach. Waters' writing style is very conversational and makes for good listening--so much so that it overcomes what I consider the many shortcomings of this book.

For as fine a storyteller as Waters may be, that talent doesn't translate well into fiction writing, which is 2/3 of this book.

Water's concept is interesting and I can see how it made for a successful pitch to his book publisher: present three separate tellings of a hitchhiking trip across America, from Baltimore to San Francisco: a fictional "good trip" version, a fictional "bad trip" version, and an autobiographical true account of Waters' actual journey.

As for the two fictional accounts: I tried but couldn't get through them even with Waters' terrific narration. Maybe the content would work better in film, where characters and scenes could come to visual life, but in print (or audio) the stories seemed shallow and almost sophomoric, as if a high school junior was trying to craft wild tales for his creative writing class.

Waters' fictional characters are too cartoonish and, worse, lack depth. And because Waters, as first-person protagonist, is the main character in these fictional accounts, he hasn't created a hero (or anti-hero) we can root for (or against). It's why when you tell someone about a spectacular dream you had that their eyes glaze over: you are the main character in that dream and that you are now recounting the story none the worse for wear, nor improved nor changed, devalues the story. (An exception to this dream rule might be if a woman you have always lusted after tells you she had an incredible sex dream about you, but how often does that happen?)

The third section of Carsick (the autobiographical version of the cross-country trek) is what saves it. Without the "true" story, which alone I would rate as a 4, I would have rated this book 1 star instead of 3.

My reference to the autobiographical section as being "true" is not to imply I don't believe Waters' retelling of his very bold and creative real life effort, but because I expected (hoped) the events would have been more real, as guttural and grainy as those early Waters' films.

Carsick isn't undercover journalism, like Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, where the author, in 1998, made a true attempt to get by working minimum wage jobs. Carsick is about a famous person not so secretly hoping drivers will recognize him and pick him up while hitchhiking, to get him from his home, successful international film career, and full-time staff of assistants in Baltimore to his second home in expensive, trendy San Francisco. For as much as it wants to feel like tight-rope walking, it's doing so with a net and safety line.

Without spoiling more than a touch of the true story, drivers end up going out of their way for Waters (in one case to the point of becoming a private driver) because they know who he is.

That, of course, didn't erase the dangers of hitchhiking, and Waters certainly could have been killed or abducted and forced to be the main character in a reenactment of [insert your favorite deranged John Waters' film scene here], but it does greatly change the perspective of the "truth" of this journey.

Waters may as well have recounted the same complaints about bad motel lighting and surly desk clerks, and told of us his first trip ever to a Wal-Mart by merely hopping in his car and setting off cross country to see what it was like to make the trip by car instead of plane.

Waters' interactions with the people who pick him up are interesting, in some cases heartwarming, but lessened because, for the most part, these people know who he is (and in one instance post accounts to social media which, of course, go viral, because this is, after all, a celebrity hitchhiking).

The best interactions are with the people who don't know Waters. These feel like genuine moments and truly uplift the book from what otherwise starts to feel uncomfortably like the privileged commenting on those not talented, nor fortunate, nor financially secure. It's unfortunate that Waters' editors and/or assistants didn't keep that feeling from leaking (in some cases pouring) into this book.

Another reader responded to this posted question stating that she's always felt Waters stuck up for the underdog. While he does seem to have sympathy for the downtrodden, it begins to seem to come from what I perceive as an insulated point of view. He seems to have grown up in a fairly-well-off family, and now looks to enjoy the spoils of a very lucrative career. But, like Mitt Romney telling us about buying a dress shirt at Costco as though he'd ventured deep into some middle class jungle, Waters' connection to work-a-day America seems detached when he offers such disclosures as not realizing until this cross-country trek that Outback Steakhouse was a chain restaurant or how much was available in Wal-Mart.

This doesn't mean he's uncaring to others. In her late 80's, my godmother, a very sweet person who lived a fairly charmed life in Baltimore just miles from where John Waters grew up, and whose strongest memory of World War II was that it was difficult to find a good gardener, once somehow ended up in a McDonald's, where, after figuring out no one was going to show her to a table, seated herself and proceeded to complain to the friend who'd taken her there that service wasn't very good in this restaurant. To my godmother, the idea of ordering her own food at the counter was completely baffling.

This same detachment from common(er) experiences may make John Waters unique and entertaining, but it does so at the risk of narcissism. This is a fine line to walk, and maybe Carsick is a little too much of that perspective. A magazine article, John Waters Discovers Wal-Mart, might get us in and out of the social commentary quickly enough and with a few good laughs before we begin to wonder if these words aren't being relayed by someone who controls his forays into the morass of everyday experiences with the security of being able to retreat to the sanctity of whichever of his homes is nearest by.


Community Reviews

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Jun 12, 2014 Diane rated it really liked it
What a fun book! In May 2012, cult film director John Waters hitchhiked from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco, carrying a tote bag and cardboard signs that read "End of 70-West" and "I'm Not Psycho." Besides a few clean clothes, an umbrella and travel-size toiletries, Waters also had a stack of autographed business cards that said THANKS FOR THE LIFT, which he would hand out to the drivers who gave him a ride.

But "Carsick" is more than just a travelogue of his hitchiking a
Petra X
This is a book in three parts. The first two parts were 2 star at best. At absolute best. They were John Waters idea of a) the best road trip novel possible and b) the worst road trip novel possible. Although he says he wrote them first, I wonder if he didn't write them later sitting with his editor who was trying to get him to make something of length to publish as a book. Maybe he just threw out this crazy idea (being John Waters this is probably his modus operandi) and the editor either said ...more
Jun 06, 2014 Edward rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is the first time I've been disappointed by John Waters. Only the last third of the book is an account of his hitchhiking experience. This slender work of nonfiction is beefed up with two "novella," one that imagines the worst possible hitchhiking experience and one that imagines the best. Tedious, very tedious.

It's always been true that Waters is, underneath his filthy persona, a heck of a nice guy. But, here, he's a little too nice. Everybody is so darn nice. Not one bad ride. His only ba
Apr 28, 2016 Lynx rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir, own
Most people in their mid-sixties are content to stay at home and watch Law & Order reruns, but John Waters isn't like most people. Packing his faux crocodile bag with the bare essentials Waters leaves his home in Baltimore with one goal - hitchhike all the way to the door of his San Francisco apartment and write about all about it.

Separated into three sections, the best that could happen, the worst, and the reality, John Waters unorthodox imagination and wild reality make this an entertainin
Jul 16, 2014 Bertha rated it it was ok
Should have read the reviews! I thought it would be interesting to read about a celebrity hitchhiking across the country, encountering all kinds of different people...Unfortunately the first 2/3rds of this book are ridiculous fictional stories of what he thinks COULD happen on the trip. While I'm not offended by John Waters, I had no interest in his non-sensical porny LSD-style fantasies. A few at the beginning would have been fine but when they take up the first 65% of what's supposed to be a n ...more
May 18, 2016 Snotchocheez rated it liked it
2.5 stars

It's not like I'm a rabid John Waters fan. I really admire the bizarro ideas rattling through the guy's mind more than I appreciate any of his finished products. Any self-respecting cineaste can't go without at least sampling a few of Waters' oddities. (A few of them successful: "Hairspray" and "Serial Mom" are my fave movies of his. A great many more just fall in the quirky-dumb to quirky ick-car-wreck continuum, like "Female Trouble", "Polyester" {with Odorama scratch-n-sniff cards...
Ken Dowell
Jul 13, 2014 Ken Dowell rated it did not like it
I'm over John Waters. A story about him hitchhiking across America sounds pretty interesting. But apparently he didn't think it was that compelling because the first two-thirds of the book is a fictionalized version of what the trip might be like. One story is of an Indiana cop who picks him up and drives him through the state popping poppers all along the way. Before this ride is done they get out of the car and do a song and dance routine on the side of the road. Sound preposterous? How about ...more
Jun 26, 2014 Adam rated it liked it
When I was still an adolescent, I was given a copy of the Movies Unlimited catalog, a thick, small-fonted, glossy-paged piece of junk mail that left me instantly captivated. It seemed as though every movie that had ever been made was available for order from its pages, thousands upon thousands of DVDs and VHS tapes, all arranged haphazardly in a layout that now seems almost anarchic. But I loved movies, even at that age, and I pored over every colored column or shaded insert, beginning with the ...more
Well, it's John Waters, and he's my Lord and Savior. (Seriously, my FB profile says John Waters under religion and FILTH with Divine's speech from PINK FLAMINGOS under politics.)

I bought the hardcover version as a 37th birthday present to myself. I also have the ebook and audio book versions. I really, really super like the latter, because John Waters narrates it. I enjoy hearing him say "asshole".

I keep seeing reviews where people complain about the first two thirds of the book being fiction. H
Jun 07, 2014 Tosh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-bought
Is it possible that there is anyone in the world who dislikes John Waters? Who by his very nature is America's favorite slightly wacko uncle. Democrat, Republican and basic citizen adore this man, because he is so... decent. Also who wouldn't want to be John Waters for a minute or two. In fact the beauty of his books "Role Models," Crackpot," "Shock Value," and now "Carsick" is that we as readers can share the same breathing space while reading his words. Often we don't want the book to be over, ...more
Jun 14, 2014 Keith rated it liked it
This book is a bit of a bait and switch. Ostensibly about Waters' trip hitchhiking across the U.S., it only gets to the non-fiction version of that trip in the last third. Prior to that, Waters offers two fictionalized accounts of what he imagined the trip might be like prior to leaving: one in which everything goes right and one in which everything goes wrong. Both are only sporadically entertaining, filled with grotesque characters and absurd—and often borderline pornographic—situations that f ...more
Aug 12, 2014 Mmars rated it it was ok
This is one of those books that will appear in library books sales for years to come---much like the majority of celebrity written autobiographies. And, many people like me, curious what it would be like to pick up John Waters on the side of the interstate, will snarf it up

Whereas many people were so-so with the first two invented sections of good and bad trips and liked the third, the real story best, I had lots of problems with that section as well.

Lesson learned: If you want to hitchhike acr
Apr 10, 2014 Jen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
The Pope of Trash takes to the highways! Armed with his cardboard signs, John Waters is determined to hitchhike from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco. What he gives us are some funny, thrilling, terrifying and profound adventures. It’s told in 3 ways: Best Case Scenarios, Worse Case Scenarios, and The Real Thing. With a playlist to boot! An exciting road trip memoir that just might inspire you to hit the road in your own way.
Jun 20, 2014 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
This is a fabulous book which makes an even better audiobook when narrated by its author. Travelogues and memoirs make great audiobooks. It does have a crude streak (like John Water's films), so it's not for the faint of heart.

The basic theme of the book though when you get past the crudeness it's basically about how decent humanity is and how we connect with each other across barriers of race, class, sexuality, gender, and even party affiliation. The real ride that takes him the furthest is a 2
Oct 14, 2014 Michelle rated it did not like it
Shelves: stalled-out
In fairness to John Waters, I found it impossible to finish this book, so it's probably not entirely ok for me to rate it. However, in fairness to potential readers, I feel it's my duty to inform them that if they don't plan on dropping acid before reading this book their chances of actually enjoying it are less than 50%.

I got about a quarter of the way through it - and I had to force myself - and finally just decided to skip to part 2. I spent a little time trudging that section and realized th
Jan 01, 2015 R. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, best-of-2014
Usually don't find myself reading a book straight through in one evening - but this one had what it takes to keep me truckin' on through to the last page (and wanting more) - took breaks only to have a small microwave dinner, heat up some tea, watch a lightning-storm (complete with bicuspid-sized hail) and refill the cat's water dish. Waters hits all the comedic sweetspots you'd expect in his two novellas ("The Best that Could Happen" and "The Worst that Could Happen" - easily the funniest novel ...more
The contours of memoir and fiction continue to overlap. It is sad to see how Waters has allowed himself to become watered down in his old age, all for the sake of being bi-coastal. I pretty much stopped giving a shit about what John Waters had to say after hearing him defend the party line on 9/11. He's become the quintessential example of how the establishment co-ops the counterculture, all for the sake of commerce.

This book would have been a lot more exciting with less obscure film allusions s
Jun 07, 2014 Jared rated it liked it
This was a fun read, but sort of disappointing for a John Waters book. The first two sections of fiction read more like roughly thrown together fan fic. Some of the material was even recycled from his stand up, interviews, and other material. The non fiction part was more fun, but was also a bit disappointing (especially when one driver contacts him via email and comes back to deliver a second long distance ride). It sort of felt like he was cheating a few times. Sure the road is tough and few p ...more
Linda Conklin
Jul 14, 2014 Linda Conklin rated it did not like it
Oh My Gosh! The first two-thirds of this book were a colosal waste of time. They were fictional rides not worth reading unless you're a really gay man who loves John Waters. The final third of the book spoke of the real rides. It was fun and well written. I wish he had just given us the real story. He could have bumped up the content with some photos. He mentions a lot of photos being taken but only a couple were included at the end of the book. Overall, I would say your money and time would be ...more
Jun 09, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it
Carsick is a book about John Waters attempting to hitchhike steps away from his home in Baltimore to the front steps of his house in San Fransisco and it definitely delivers. The story is told in three parts or three scenario... The best that could happen, the worst that could happen and the real thing. The first two parts of the book are fiction and Waters weaves together fantastic stories that are funny, poignant, gross and thought provoking. Though initially I was more anxious to skim ahead t ...more
Apr 15, 2015 Aaron rated it really liked it
This was definitely typical John Waters, which means you probably know whether you like it or not based on whether you like Water or not. He can be fun and humorous, though some people find him offensive. He is the person who put together the first Hairspray film as well as a number of other independent films with no shortage of adult themes.

In this particular book, Waters decides to hitchhike across America from his home in Baltimore, Maryland, to San Francisco, California. Before he dives into
I remember hearing that John Waters was hitchhiking across the county and I was interested to see how his trip turned out. I was not very interested in the sections where Waters imagined various good and bad ride scenarios but fans of his work may appreciate those and it was probably better to add those rather than drag out the story of his cross-country trip. The fascinating part of the book is really just Waters himself, a guy who does and says crazy things but is also neurotic, kind and fasti ...more
Jun 23, 2015 Belinda rated it it was amazing
Oh John Waters..let me count the ways I love you...<3 I am a dyed in the wool John Waters fan--I won't say I love every one of his movies--I don't--but I love a lot of them and in loving them, I learned about the faboosh Divine and of course John himself. His interviews really got me--not that it's not obvious that he's creative or funny--but you just have no idea.
We share a lot of things--a complete adoration of kitsch, true crime history and a love of old fashioned things that does not mat
Jun 29, 2016 CluckingBell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a John Waters fan in spite—or possibly because—of the fact that I have never seen any of his films. I know him only through interviews and an occasional guest appearance, and I really like the guy.

Looking forward to his interactions with a stream of strangers, I was a little disappointed initially to find his imagined best and worst case scenarios take up the bulk of the book. I knew the fictional rides would be there, but I had thought there were maybe three apiece (there were thirteen ap
Nov 14, 2014 Larraine rated it really liked it
After hearing John Waters being interviewed about this book, of course I had to get it. Happily our local library had copies. This is, after all, Maryland, not far from Baltimore. The first two sections are fantasies. He almost had me believing them though. They are his "best and worse" rides - full of orgies featuring gay and hetero sex, not to mention lots of drugs and alcohol. I am reminded of Casablanca when Captain Renault accuses Rick of being a "rank sentimentalist." After two sections of ...more
Al Young
Mar 01, 2016 Al Young rated it really liked it
I was somewhat shocked when I saw this book showing up on "Best of 2015" lists, so I figured it was worth a look. Has John Waters mellowed to become mainstream, or has the mainstream moved to John Waters's world. It appears to be the latter. After years of Fear Factor, celebrity sex tapes, Howard Stern, Jacka--, Springer, primetime ED drug commericals and everything else, I think we know the answer.

This is probably the most obscene book i have ever read (and I have read the masters from Henry
Apr 13, 2015 Jason rated it liked it
Delightfully funny, irreverent, and vulgar, but alas not entirely my cup of tea. The book is set up in three parts: the first an imagined string of "bad rides" Waters takes while hitchhiking from his apartment in Baltimore to his other apartment in San Francisco. The second section is imagined "good" rides. Both sections are funny, but lagged and ultimately bored me. The final section is an essay on what actually happens on Waters' trip, and that was the best part. As someone who has done of a l ...more
Ethan Casey
Every American road trip is different; thus every American road trip book is, and should be, different from every other. The beauty of such books done well has much to do with the nature of the country itself: so enormous and diverse, and so (if we're honest) contingent and arbitrary in its history and geography, that any trip across or around it is bound to have as much to do with the personality of the road tripper, and the happenstances inherent in the act of traveling, as with any putative q ...more
This is a strange one.
John Waters pitches the idea of hitchhiking coast to coast to his publishers, and they love it.
At best, this is magazine article material.
The introduction basically covers my second sentence, then we get a fictional account of his idea of the 'best' journey, which involves actresses, porn stars, alien abduction and wild trucker orgies.
Next we get the 'journey from hell' involving child abduction, redneck homophobic cops and serial killer groupies.
It should be amazing, like
Rick J
Feb 22, 2015 Rick J rated it liked it
I got into John Waters far too recently, and I seem to be working through his career in reverse chronological order, reading his latest books and watching his mainstream films before most of the cult stuff. I wish I had been introduced to John Waters much earlier (what could have been if I got my parents to rent Pink Flamingos instead of Rocky Horror when I was in high school?), but reading "Carsick" without being familiar with his most recognizable work is interesting in its own way.

"Carsick" m
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John Samuel Waters, Jr. is an American filmmaker, actor, writer, personality, visual artist and art collector, who rose to fame in the early 1970s for his transgressive cult films: Pink Flamingos and Hairspray. He is recognizable by his pencil-thin moustache.
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“but my abortion politics are simple. If you can’t love your child, don’t have it, because it will grow up and kill me.” 6 likes
“I’d like to praise the drivers who picked me up. If I ever hear another elitist jerk use the term flyover people, I’ll punch him in the mouth. My riders were brave and open-minded, and their down-to-earth kindness gave me new faith in how decent Americans can be. They are the only heroes in this book.” 5 likes
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