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Books to Go

Good Cents Advice

September 22, 1996|JOHN MUNCIE

INSIDER TRAVEL SECRETS: You're Not Supposed to Know by Tom Parsons (Best Fares, Inc., $19.95, paperback). THE FRUGAL GLOBETROTTER: Your Guide to World Adventure Bargains by Bruce T. Northam (Fulcrum Publishing, $16.95, paperback).

Tom Parsons, founder and editor of Best Fares magazine, is known as an expert in discount air fares. His new book, "Secrets," expands the focus to include money-saving tips on hotels, car rentals, trains, cruises and other travel options.

Despite the breathless title, revelations are not the strength of "Secrets." Fact is, most of this stuff is generally available to travelers. The difficulty is getting the info sensibly listed, clearly explained and presented in a handy, easy-to-read format. That's where "Secrets" comes in.

The book's how-to quality is welcome. The section on flying, for example, has a whole NFL playbook of air fare cost-cutting strategies (including an excellent explanation of frequent-flier deals); explains all that gobbledygook on your plane ticket; and lists foreign countries offering multiple-stop airline passes. Every section is filled with price comparison charts, names of important contacts and hundreds of helpful phone numbers.

Northam's "Globetrotter" is in the "Secrets" vein, except that it's geared to the backpack set. Parsons talks about Hiltons, Northam about hostels. (The airline information overlaps considerably.) "Globetrotter" is a chattier, less hard-nosed guide, featuring travel vignettes and advice from the "hippie" trail. "Globetrotter's" phone list is also a helpful one, though not as extensive.

SWEET LIBERTY: Travels in Irish America by Joseph O'Connor (Roberts Rinehart, $24.95).

In Ireland, Joseph O'Connor--novelist, columnist, film writer, brother of depilated rocker Sinead--is something of an enfant terrible. In "Sweet Liberty," you can drop the enfant. The premise has promise: O'Connor is entranced by America and its grip on the Irish imagination. As a child, he writes, "I stopped seeing Ireland as a place which revolved around Dublin, and I began to see it as a place which revolved around America." For travel-book purposes, he decided to visit nine U.S. towns called Dublin, which are scattered from New Hampshire to California, and use this nicely quixotic journey as the basis for a rumination on the Irish in America.

But only a few pages past the introduction, O'Connor begins to confuse vulgar wisecracking with insight. Eventually, "Sweet Liberty" becomes more a catalog of O'Connor's hangovers and his tangents into American cultural cliche than of legacies. (In any event, most of the Dublins turn out to have no Irish connections at all.)

The few nuggets--an ode to Al Smith, the Irish former mayor of New York; some wonderful excerpts from Irish immigrants' letters--hint at the possibilities for such a book. Once out of infancy, maybe O'Connor will write it.

MEXICO HANDBOOK by Joe Cummings and Chicki Mallan (Moon Publications, $21.95, paperback, maps). Moon has eight other handbooks for parts of Mexico, but this is its first comprehensive guide to the entire country. It is exhaustive and well-designed. Like the Lonely Planet series, Moon emphasizes budget and adventure travel, though it too recommends hotels and restaurants in several price ranges. Moon's choices are generally sound, which means I generally agree with them. Aside from the vast amount of practical information, Moon books are valued for their straightforward style. "Mexico" is no different. If the authors think a place is an overcrowded rip-off, they'll tell you.

In addition to new editions of its respected Hawaii, South Pacific and Costa Rica guides, Moon has published a new "Caribbean Handbook" that concentrates on the Virgin, Leeward and Windward islands.


Quick trips:

WALKING EASY: In the San Francisco Bay Area by Wendy Logsdon and Roger Rapoport (Gateway Books, $11.95, paperback, maps). Thirty-eight walks in the city of San Francisco and eight surrounding counties. Nothing terribly challenging. The estimated walk times range from 30 minutes to five hours. Includes recommendations for hotels, restaurants and tourist sights. This series includes various Alpine walking guides.

THE BOSTON FOOD LOVER by Lise Stern (Addison-Wesley Publishing, $16, paperback). Not a restaurant guide, rather an encyclopedia of places that deal in food, such as bakeries, farmers markets, pasta makers, butchers, ethnic markets and chocolatiers. If it can be eaten, it's here. Fun guide for foodies planning a trip back East.

ON THE ROAD AROUND NEW ENGLAND: A Comprehensive Guide to New England by Car edited by Stephen H. Morgan (Passport Books, $15.95, paperback, maps). Lists a number of direct and scenic routes, from Long Island to Maine's Canadian border. Includes hotel, restaurant and sightseeing information. History, descriptions and recommendations are sketchy. Other car touring books in this series include California and Florida.

OUTSIDE MAGAZINE'S ADVENTURE GUIDE TO NORTHERN CALIFORNIA by Andrew W. Rice (Macmillan, $15.95, paperback, maps). This guide breaks down Northern California into 14 regions: the Central Coast, Yosemite area, Lassen area, etc. These areas are further divided into sub-areas, under which are listed various possible activities, such as kayaking, mountain biking, snowboarding, rock climbing and wildlife watching. Sound confusing? It is. And a blizzard of subheadings and activity symbols doesn't help. Maybe they should include book exploration as an activity. This and an adventure guide to New England are the first of a proposed 12-book series.

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

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