This is the week when all the travel guide books drop, as if we’re all going to be lying about in recliners with distended bellies with nothing to do but dream of vacation destinations for when we can move again. Or maybe this is the year we all slip out the back and hie off for parts unknown and undiscovered. There are a few places left, you know.
There are also many places that have vanished too. Some of these places were less permanent than others, and Bjørn Berge presents the ephemeral history and passing geography of fifty countries that are no more. Nowhereland wanders on the cusp of the unreal, charting a path across alternate history and imagined futures, and Berge has a keen eye for encapsulating the momentary spasms of human thought and community that led to such temporary countries.
Well, if we can’t get to countries that don’t exist (and if entropy is keeping us lounger-bound), there is always Better Than Fiction, Lonely Planet’s re-issued collection of travel stories. These thirty-two stories range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and are penned by well-travelled folks like Isabel Allende, Peter Matthiessen, Alexander McCall Smith, and Joyce Carol Oates. In fact, Lonely Planet—in addition to doing solid and brightly colored travel guides—has put together a number of anthologies of travel literature over the years. Tales from Nowhere. A Moveable Feast. By The Seat of My Pants. The Kindness of Strangers. Lots of choices. Much like the buffet table at Thanksgiving.
And speaking of strange travel narratives, how about The Red Atlas? Back in the day (read the Cold War), the Soviets created a program to secretly map the entirety of the United States. Now, in The Red Atlas, John Davies and Alexander J. Kent reveal the extent of this secret project. Containing over 300 extracts of these secret Soviet maps, The Red Atlas shows a surprising attention to detail about various locations around the US. Remember this is pre-Google, pre-spy satellite era of mapping, which means all of this data was carefully hand-collected.
Of course, if the US had maps of the Soviet Union in this level of detail, we—the public of the United States—wouldn’t know anything about it, because, you know, secrets.
Well, we’ll always have Soviet Bus Stops (volumes I and II, naturally).
All right, on to other books. Tim Ferris, champion of all things extreme, has a new doorstop out this week. Following up on his Tools of Titans from a year or so ago, he’s back with Tribe of Mentors. When you are facing life’s tough questions, who better to turn to than your mentors, right? Well, Tim has done that for us, and this collection of more than six hundred pages of short and tidy advice from the best of the best will help you in all facets of your daily life. Whether you’re having trouble deciding between the Club sandwich and the turkey and rye for lunch, or whether you should get that Speedo swimsuit now because it is 65% off even though it’s a size too small and you’re not sure you’re going to able to get the weight off by next spring, or whether you should put your money in historically well-performing stocks versus something terribly ephemeral like cryptocurrency and gold sovereigns. Tim and his tribe of mentors is here for you.
And speaking of figuring things out for yourself, Sarah Knight is back with You Do You: How to Be Who You are Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want, which is probably the longest possible title using words of four letters or less. Sarah, as you may recall, wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck back in the day as a parody of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but there was a bit of truth to Ms. Knight’s parody, and she’s written a couple of follow-up books now. You Do You is the latest in the A No F*cks Given Guide series, and it tackles such earnest topics as “We’re Done With ‘Just Because’,” “Mental Redecorating,” and “F*ck Being Nice; That’s Not My Job.” Thereby continuing the recent trend that all advice is better when it is delivered with swear words.
And speaking of swearing, how about a copy of Yoga With Cats? Masako Miyakawa has captured thirty-one poses as evidenced by cats, and tries to convince us that we, too, can stretch, distort, and otherwise pretzelate our bodies like cats. There’s an old adage that folks tend to look like their pets, and we think this might just be taking it a little too far. Not to mention our hips don’t bend like that. Seriously.
And speaking of moving our bodies, favorite long-dead but still producing content mythographer Joseph Campbell has a new collection out this week. The Ecstasy of Being is a collection of his writing on dance and art. Campbell, when he retired from teaching in 1972, formed the Theater of the Open Eye (with his wife, Jean Erdman), and for the next fifteen years, they presented a wide array of dance and theater pieces. The essays in The Ecstasy of Being cover Campbell’s thoughts on dance and sacred movement, and include “Mythology and Form in the Performing and Visual Arts,” a treatise he was working on when he passed away in 1987. [Has it been that long already?] We’re a fan of both mythology and sacred movement around here, and we’re keen to check out what Campbell has to say on the subject.
And speaking of sacred things, Marc Myers has collected forty-five of his exploratory essays on iconic songs in Anatomy of a Song. Myers talks with the folks who wrote, produced, and recorded a variety of classic R & B, Pop, and Rock ’n’ Roll songs, and reveals all manner of inspiration, perspiration, and collaboration that went into these hits. Great for filling those awkward moments during holiday parties. “Hey, did you know that the Latin rhythm that Doors’ drummer John Densmore used in ‘Light My Fire’ was inspired by ‘The Girl From Ipanema’?” See?
And speaking of discovering secrets, TV favorite Neil Patrick Harris is adding “Clever Author” to his CV. In The Magic Misfits, Harris gives us a story about six misfit magicians who have to save the town of Mineral Wells from the clutches of a dastardly villain. Naturally, the book is full of ciphers, codes, tricks, and secrets, because what’s a book about magicians without misdirection, linguistic perambulations, and symbolic trickery?
And finally, we have Shobhna Patel’s The Nutcracker, a retelling of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet with pop-ups. Patel has invented a new paper-cutting technique known as “paperscope,” and it’s on display in this book, and let us tell you, the results are exquisite. So much detail. So many fine lines. It’s like a stage play come to life. Fantastic, wondrous, and thoroughly magical.