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Books to Go

A Slew of Worthy Titles to Begin the New Year

January 09, 1994|COLMAN ANDREWS

I see literally hundreds and hundreds of new travel books each year, many of them quite good and some of them positively brilliant. Of necessity, though, I let hundreds and hundreds of these volumes--even some of the worthy ones--go unreviewed. They just won't fit. Even the ones that make the first cut sometimes wait months for a berth in these pages, and sometimes never seem "to go" at all.

It's time to move some of them along. To get the year off to a fresh start--and to empty my review shelf at least part way--here are briefer-than-usual notes on, well, as many of these books as will fit in this space (with more briefs to come in my next column).

LOOKING FOR OSMAN by Eric Lawlor (Vintage Departures, $11 paper). Subtitled "One Man's Travels Through the Paradox of Modern Turkey," this is an entertaining, almost novelistic excursion into a remarkable and, er, paradoxical nation--a country that appears (at least when viewed through Lawlor's not unjaundiced eye) to be partially emergent and partially antithetical to going anywhere at all.

MAVERICK GUIDE TO PRAGUE by Leonard Levine (Pelican, $14.95 paper). With Prague threatening to become the next new European cultural hot spot, this is a particularly timely guidebook. It's also a nicely fashioned one, with loads of useful cultural tips and plenty of evocative description woven into the nuts-and-bolts practical material on the city. Also included is a section on (I love this phrase) "daytrips to Bohemia."

ADVENTURING IN NEW ZEALAND: The Sierra Club Travel Guide to the Pearl of the Pacific by Margaret Jefferies (Sierra Club Books, $15 paper). Ah, New Zealand, land of contrasts! Ski slopes, tropical beaches, rain forests, modern cities, national parks and more--they're all in New Zealand, and all in this well-researched, if not particularly stylishly written guidebook.

THE SANTA FE TRAIL BY BICYCLE: A Historic Adventure by Elaine Pinkerton (Red Crane Books, $12.95 paper). A lively account of a 1,100-mile, 21-day journey along the legendary Santa Fe Trail, from Santa Fe, N.M., through Colorado and Kansas and all the way to New Franklin, Mo. The jaunt is great fun to read about, and daunting to consider.

BELIZE HANDBOOK by Chicki Mallan (Moon Publications, $13.95 paper) and BELIZE: A Natural Destination, second edition, by Richard Mahler and Steele Wotkyns (John Muir Publications, $16.95 paper). With all the ink Belize has inspired in the last couple of years, I'm not sure that it's correct to call it a "travel secret" anymore--but it remains less well-known than it should be (be honest, now: can you place it exactly on a map?), considering its many attractions--from Mayan ruins to animated night life to an astonishing wealth of flora and fauna. Mallan's book on the place is rich with detail, if abbreviated in style. Mahler and Wotkyns are more thoughtful and leisurely with their prose (and also rather drier), and are particularly strong, as their sub-title suggests, on the country's natural history.

GERRY FRANK'S WHERE TO FIND IT, BUY IT, EAT IT IN NEW YORK, 1994-1995 edition, by Gerry Frank (Gerry's Frankly Speaking, $12.95 paper) and NEW YORK CITY STARWALKS by Larry Wolfe Horwitz (St. Martin's Press, $12.95 paper). Frank's title says it all: His 652-page tome is less a guidebook than a reference manual, jam-packed with lists, mini-reviews and miscellaneous do's and don'ts--a consumer's compendium of Gotham goodies. Horwitz, with tongue (one hopes) in cheek, walks Manhattan dropping names. If you care where assorted celebrities reside (everyone from Tom Cruise to Blair Brown to Peggy Cass), what Steve Martin's like before he has his morning coffee (grumpy) or--God help you--why Sally Jessy Raphael loves New York--this one's for you.

BUSHWALKING IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA by Yvon Perusse (Lonely Planet, $14.95 paper); CHILE & EASTER ISLAND by Wayne Bernhardson (Lonely Planet, $15.95 paper), and MALDIVES & ISLANDS OF THE EAST INDIAN OCEAN by Mark Balla and Bob Willox (Lonely Planet, $12.95 paper). More excellent guides from Australia-based Lonely Planet, all written with the usual (for this publisher) authority, attention to detail and at least glimmers of style and wit.

FODOR'S LONDON COMPANION: The Guide for the Independent Traveler by Louise Nicholson (Fodor's, $17 paper). The London Tourist Board and Convention Bureau named an earlier edition of this wordy but very readable guidebook as "Best London Guide." No wonder: London-based Nicholson knows her city intimately and writes like a generous insider, both sharing her best secrets and suggesting fresh ways of looking at familiar sights in this revised and updated volume.

EXPLORING THE BLACK HILLS & BADLANDS: A Guide for Hikers, Cross-country Skiers, and Mountain Bikers by Hiram Rogers (Cordillera Press, $14.95 paper). Just the facts, geographical and historical, about a beautiful, dramatic and often just plain rugged region spilling across Wyoming and North and South Dakota. The maps are even more serious than the text.

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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