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Maine: Latest of the 'Great Destinations'

August 09, 1992|COLMAN ANDREWS

THE COAST OF MAINE BOOK by Rick Ackermann and Kathryn Buxton (Berkshire House, $14.95 paper).

Maine is mythic America, famously beautiful, independent, unspoiled--a kind of Yankee Eden where the air is clean and the lobsters are cheap and everybody lives in graceful harmony with the land and sea. That's what residents of the other 49 states usually seem to think about the state, at any rate. And they're probably right, at least according to this crisply written, information-packed paean to the place--the latest of the "Great Destinations" guides from Massachusetts-based Berkshire House. (The first, appropriately enough, dealt with the Berkshires; next came "The Santa Fe & Taos Book" and "The Napa & Sonoma Book"; volumes on the Chesapeake Bay, the Adirondacks and Aspen are in the works).

Half of all Maine residents vacation in their own state, the authors tell us (they live in Portland, Me., themselves), and the state tourism slogan--"Maine. The Way Life Should Be"--is often ridiculed by locals not for any perceived inaccuracy but for its very obviousness. For visitors hungry for a slice of this life--be it Apple Cider Day in Falmouth, berry-picking on Schoodic Mountain, puffin-watching on Eastern Egg Rock, shopping at the 24-hour-a-day original L.L. Bean store in Freeport or sampling the salmon ravioli at the Castine Inn--"The Coast of Maine Book" seems an invaluable sourcebook.

One quibble: Though the index lists shops, hotels, restaurants, geographical sites and such, it does not include individual towns and cities by name--making it difficult for the reader to find out, for instance, where to stay in West Gouldsboro (The Sunset House) or what to see in Machias (the Revolutionary-era Burnham Tavern).

PLACES TO EAT: NEW ENGLAND by Pamela Wright and Diane Bair (Chronicle Books, $9.95 paper).

Ackermann and Buxton, authors of the aforementioned guide to Maine, first wrote collaboratively as restaurant critics for New England Monthly. Wright and Bair, on the other hand, don't seem to have any restaurant reviewing experience at all: They are described by their publisher simply as "business associates in Newburyport, Massachusetts" and as the author of "Places to Go with Children in New England." Though they may know New England, then, it's not clear--either from their biographies or from their text itself--how well they know their region's grub. Taken simply as a directory of inexpensive and informal eating places--the book is subtitled "A Guide to More Than 200 Fun, Casual, and Cheap Restaurants"--the book will certainly be of interest to budget-minded travelers in the northeastern United States. As restaurant criticism, though, it's more description than assessment--and sometimes rather unsettling description at that, as when the authors write, for instance, of Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale in Westport, Conn., that, "If seafood casseroles are your bag, they've got you covered, with broiled scallops, shrimp scampi, lobster, and a scallop and shrimp combination, all served en casserole." Not what I'd particularly like to be covered with.

CYCLING by Arlene Plevin ; HIKING by Cindy Ross; RUNNING by John Schubert and SAILING by Michael B. McPhee (all Fodor's, $12 paper).

These are the first four titles in the Fodor's Sports series, each subtitled "A Celebration of the Sport and the World's Best Places to Enjoy It." Considering the comprehensiveness of the standard Fodor's guides to various destinations, these are patently thin works, both physically (they run from 184 to 216 pages, in large, loose type) and in the breadth of information they provide.

Indeed, these are not fact-heavy guidebooks at all, but primarily extended personal essays on the pursuits in question, interspersed with inspirational and practical asides--the "celebration" part of the text. Sections on the "world's best places" take up only 30 or so pages per volume, and aren't written by the putative authors but by additional contributors. Indeed, this series is apparently aimed more at interested beginners than at hard-core practitioners. This, for instance, is Michael B. McPhee: "When sailing downwind, the sails are set out to the side and the following wind simply pushes the boat along, like a leaf on the water."

And this is John Schubert: "Just as eating watercress and seltzer isn't as much fun as eating ice cream and drinking a good liqueur, running on a wind-swept fall day isn't as much fun as sitting in a favorite bar, watching a great movie. Or is it? . . . I have news, folks. Running can be almost hedonistic. But only if you approach it in the right spirit." A serious runner might well have exclaimed, "Well, la di da!" about halfway through.

THE BEST PLACES TO KISS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: A Romantic Travel Guide, second edition, by Paula Begoun and Deborah Brada (Beginning Press, $10.95 paper). This is a guide to romantic restaurants, hotels, night clubs, parks and even parking (that's "parking") spots, from Cambria to the Mexican border (companion volumes embrace Northern California, the Pacific Northwest and New York City.) The basic information will no doubt be of interest to anyone who wants to find an intimate but public hideaway in this portion of the state.

The entries, however, are sometimes inaccurate.

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