THE SIZE OF THE WORLD: A Global Odyssey--Around the World Without Leaving the Ground by Jeff Greenwald (The Globe Pequot Press, $22.95, photos).
A better title might be: "The Size of the Ego." It's far more about the author's angst, musings, peccadilloes, gastrointestinal tract, sex life and philosophical perambulations than it is about travel.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Jeff Greenwald's angst can be pretty amusing. He's an intrepid, articulate and funny traveler--Phileas Fogg meets Woody Allen--and master of the sideswipe simile. Some examples: "A bulbous Ambassador cab, fleet as a senile hippopotamus. . . "; ". . .every sweat gland in my body contracted like a sea anemone"; ". . .watching jellyfish drift like Ziploc sandwich bags under the prow." Such descriptions cover the pages of "Size" like fleas on . . . well, you fill in the punch line.
The idea behind "Size" was to encircle the globe--beginning and ending in Oakland, Calif.--without flying. The route was inventive, including stops in West Africa, Pakistan and Tibet. Along the way he met local and backpacking oddballs, rode kidney-bruising buses, and dueled with numerous Third World bureaucrats.
Greenwald has a flea-market mind. His observations connect with everything from Bob Dylan to the Bhagavad-Gita. Not all of it works. The hand-wringing gets old; he runs out of steam in China and ends the narrative rather abruptly, and his initial traveling companion--a guru-doting, wheat-grass gargling, former lover--is a real bore.
Mostly, though, it's ingenious and manic.
THE BIG BOOK OF ADVENTURE TRAVEL by James C. Simmons (John Muir Publications, $17.95, paperback).
Many vacationers cringe at luxury cruises and are bored with the beach. They want trips involving risk and workout, but they want it controlled by a professional tour company. This new edition of the "soft adventure" bible can be their one-stop shopping guide.
It lists hundreds of possibilities, from diving among sunken Japanese warships at Truk Lagoon in Micronesia to kayaking Oregon's Rogue River to tracking grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park to 33-week treks through the heart of Africa. It's a fun book for browsing and dreaming.
Each adventure is briefly described and the tour operator's telephone number and address are listed. "Big Book" also features discount coupons good for 5% off a number of the trips.
A TRAVELLER'S HISTORY OF CHINA by Stephen G. Haw (Interlink Books, $14.95, paperback, illustrations).
Given the constraints of a China history in fewer than 250 paperback pages, this seems fairly thorough. It stretches from Neolithic times to the crushing of 1989's democracy movement. Haw prefers military actions and dynasties to artists and philosophers and he has rather drained the drama from the sweep of events. (The 20th century takeover of Tibet is mentioned, but not its cultural destruction.)
For those of us ignorant of the matter, the brief discussion of Mandarin Chinese language and writing is particularly interesting. Each syllable comes with four possible vocal inflections and thus four different meanings. Depending on these inflections, the phrase "Mama ma ma," could mean "Mother curses horses."
"China" is one of 14 in a series that includes two cities: London and Paris. Six more are in preparation, according to Interlink. There isn't anything special for travelers in these histories, except, perhaps, their lack of heft. The paucity of maps is particularly irritating.
THE USED BOOK LOVER'S GUIDE TO THE PACIFIC COAST STATES by David S. Siegel and Susan Siegel (Book Hunter Press, $18.95, paperback, maps). A comprehensive listing of stores that should be a great resource for book lovers. There is standard information (address, number of volumes, when established, specialties, etc.) on each place, and then a few lines of comment from the authors.
Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month. For information on more travel books, see L8.