Paul Carr’s ‘The Upgrade’

Paul Carr was a fuckup. He left a career as a journalist with The Guardian to start his own multimillion dollar publishing company, abandoned it to launch a web startup under the delusion of becoming “the next Mark Zuckerberg”, got arrested and failed in many relationships because of an alcohol problem. With mounting bills and his life going off the rails, Carr started a journey that has made him a legend in tech journalism.

Paul Carr The Upgrade book cover

The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of Life Without Reservations is Paul Carr’s story of how he realised that it would be cheaper for him to live exclusively in hotels for a whole year, compared to renting a place in London at £1100 a month. He makes a sane argument: living in a hotel comes with all bills included, no council taxes, an easy choice to shift residence whenever you feel like, and deeply discounted rates when staying at a hotel for months. In a way, he provides an insider look into the hotel industry – as his parents were both career hoteliers, and he spent much of his childhood living in hotels.

Thus begins a wild ride with Carr living in hotels with personal butlers, countless sexual encounters, train journeys across America, hanging out with Icelandic rockers, getting chased by Spanish drug dealers, blagging his way into the launch party of the Hollywood film 21 – and then summarily proceeding to insult Kate Bosworth by assuming she was a cocktail waitress and calling Clive Owen’s films shit in front of him, attending a party of hairdressers dressed only in bedsheets (claiming that he was the proprietor of “British Hairways”), thousand-mile booty calls, going on a press junket to Bognor Regis with chavs dressed as Tinkerbell…it’s all very Hunter S. Thompson, minus the drug-fuelled hallucinations. His lifestyle as a global nomad living wherever he can snap up the cheapest hotels affords him opportunities for such outrageous stories.

Loads of drunken stories themselves would not make this book stand out though; everyone has their own ‘crazy’ drunken stories. For starters, Carr’s narrative style is incredibly funny as well as outrageously frank. (“Another thing I’m not very good at is having sex with someone, knowing that their dead mother is in my bedside cupboard,” he says, of a disappointing sexual performance.) He also propounds a philosophy of only owning as much possessions as one can fit into a single bag – something that I was so enamoured by that I have adopted it in my life.

What makes his book truly stand is that it’s part travelogue, part personal journey of epiphany and self-discovery. As you read along the book, you find him transforming from an arrogant self-centred prick who does not care about his friends – as long as his stories of drunken romps get him attention – to a reformed man who realises what things are truly important in life. As someone with his own behavioural issues, I found Paul Carr’s story to be deeply inspiring to get my own life in order.

And if you do enjoy The Upgrade, I recommend his first book Bringing Nothing To The Party: The True Confessions of a New Media Whore too. It’s a fascinating look into the London journalism circle, publishing companies, and tech startups.


The fault in ‘The Fault In Our Stars’

The Fault In Our StarsJohn Green’s latest novel The Fault In Our Stars does everything right on paper: its plot has universal appeal among the masses and has garnered much critical acclaim to boot. This is a book that was destined to become a bestseller. The story is of a 16-year-old girl Hazel Grace Lancaster who suffers from cancer and meets a guy called Augutus “Gus” Waters through her cancer support group and falls in love with him, and the machinations of this romance through the months they spend together. A major subplot revolves around an alcoholic author called Peter van Houten who lives in Amsterdam – Hazel’s favourite author – whom the two end up meeting in a quest to find the ending to his (only) novel.

To say that I was massively disappointed with this book would be an understatement. I expected it to be similar to Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper – a book that moved me to tears with its story – but in the end I found The Fault In Our Stars to be lacking in pizazz. The plot is only slightly more original than a story that you might read on the back of a box of breakfast cereal. Every cliché that you can think of – and then some more – is thrown into the mix, to the point that every single page is utterly predictable. If it was backed up by proper character development, the novel would still be salvageable but alas this is something it fails at too.

It’s easy to forget how much of the buzz around John Green’s books stems from legions of adoring fans who flood the Web with positive reviews. For those who are not aware of his background, John Green is a major Internet celebrity – converts to four-sevenths of a real-life celebrity at current exchange rates – for pioneering the concept of ‘vlogging’ (video blogging). With just about a million subscribers on YouTube with 300 million views on his videos, Green’s fans are a highly-effective PR juggernaut that publishing executives wish for in their wet dreams.

Lest someone accuse me of being biased against John Green, I immensely enjoyed one of his previous novels Paper Towns. I used to avoid the whole young adult novel genre like the scourge until Paper Towns showed me that a genuinely witty novel aimed at younger readers that did not have flying wizards or law-and-order leprechauns could be written. The genre as a whole has progressed so far in terms of being insightful yet relevant to the younger generation. Unfortunately, The Fault In Our Stars signifies everything that I see wrong in “dumbing down” books to appeal to young readers.

Rating: 1 / 5