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I have traveled widely in Concord.

—Thoreau, Walden

Bruce Chatwin
  • The Songlines
    For years Chatwin labored on a book about nomads until he realized the paradox of such a project: writing a book means sitting on your ass. Luckily (for us), he contracted a rare near-fatal disease in China and was able to put the finishing touches on this extraordinary description of Australian Aboriginal culture and the benefits of travel (especially walking) in general.
  • Far Journeys
    In addition to his notebooks, Chatwin also carried a camera. This lush Cinemascopic coffee table book of color photography demonstrates the exceptional eye that kept him employed as a Sotheby's art buyer before he quit and embarked on his travels.

Andrei Codrescu
  • Road Scholar
    Roumanian-born poet and brand-new driver Andrei Codrescu hops in a mint red '68 Cadillac and journeys with film crew from Ellis Island to the Golden Gate, making stops in a ravaged and abandoned Detroit, a moving and shaking Chicago, the New Age and Survivalist supermarkets of the southwest, the neon kitsch of Vegas, and finally the odd peace and stability of San Francisco, where Codrescu notes, "From here on out there is nothing but ocean. You can't run any farther. You must turn around to face yourself." Perhaps because he himself is a bit eccentric, Codrescu never condescends to or disparages his subjects, remaining true to his observation that "what keeps us together is precisely the awed awareness of our differences...."

    Towards the end of the book, Codrescu interviews City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti (an interview which didn't make it into the film version, by the way) who compares Henry Miller's and Kerouac's cross-country roadtrip accounts, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare and On the Road, respectively: "...Miller was more focused on the reality of America whereas Kerouac was off in his Catholic consciousness more. When you read On the Road closely, you see he really wasn't observing the reality in front of him." Other than occasional nostalgic flashbacks to the '60s, Codrescu is genuinely engaged and surprised by what he finds at the well-lit fringes of American society at the end of the 20th century and describes it all with journalistic acuity and poetic flare. A must for anyone who's done or is dreaming of doing the transcontinental trip.

Kevin Kelley
  • The Home Planet
    Political boundaries are dissolved by a moon's-eye view of Earth to create bold visions of the planet through 150 color photographs culled from the American and then-Soviet archives. The pictures are allowed to speak for themselves, with only tiny captions describing locales and weather conditions. Commentary is provided solely by eloquent quotes from astronauts of 18 nations which are shown both in original language (be it Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hindi, Mongolian, French, German, Spanish, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, Dutch, or Russian) and English translation. The message is simple--we are all citizens of the same global nation.

    Conceived and edited for the Association of Space Explorers, no earthling will be unmoved by the views, both photographic and verbal, regarding our home. From desert to arctic, ocean to breadbasket, this book will delight anyone who's ever looked outside an airplane window to marvel at the forms below.

Ken Kesey
  • The Further Inquiry
    "Are you on the bus or off the bus?" That was the crucial question posed by proto-hippies Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady and their band of Merry Pranksters who toured the country in the original Magic Bus on the first Magical Mystery Tour, most famously recounted by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. In The Further Inquiry, Kesey examines the trip 25 years after the fact through a surreal courtroom drama. While the text itself is not as engrossing as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Kesey's first book), devotees of Beat will find the bus transcript snippets of interest and the layout and full-color pages throughout make this big bad hardback a treasure worth hunting.

    With color photographs, film stills, and other enhanced imagery, the book is a visual feast with many whimsical touches, including a black-and-white flipbook movie of a dancing Cassady in the right margin. It is less an inquiry than a celebration.

Paul Theroux
  • Old Patagonian Express by Train through the Americas
    Theroux boards a commuter train in Boston, then transfers and switches his way all the way by passenger rail to southernmost Argentina. An enviable ride wittily and vividly described. Do you love the train? I do. Things I like about this book: the snatches of poetry; the glimpses of notebook entries; the frankness and smalltalk avoidance when encountering strangers; the incidental lyricism of the descriptions; the inclusion of brief reviews and glosses on what he is reading; the long rolling narrative filling the distance between Boston and Esquel, Argentina; the focus as narrow as the tracks he rode which opens on grander vistas through which awareness passes.

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© 1999 robert zverina