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BOOKS TO GO

Lots of Funny Business on the Road

November 08, 1998|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THERE'S NO TOILET PAPER ON THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED, The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure, edited by Doug Lansky (Traveler's Tales Inc., $12.95, paper).

Serious travelers know that cultural differences are nothing to laugh about. Seriously funny travelers can't help themselves.

And so Bill Bryson chortles at the Parisian bakery clerk who misinterprets his sloppy linguistic efforts:

" 'No no,' you would say, hands aflutter, 'Not a dead beaver, a loaf of bread.' "

And so P.J. O'Rourke recalls a visit to Jim and Tammy Bakker's Heritage USA Christian resort:

"[We] came to scoff--but went away converted. Unfortunately, we were converted to Satanism."

Some of these pieces are ha-ha funny. Some are witty. And more than a few mistake mimicking a "foreign" accent for wit. Beginning each piece, you feel about yourself a bit like David Foster Wallace felt about his dinner companions on his first luxury cruise:

"They all sort of scream before they laugh, so that for one excruciating second you can't tell whether they're getting ready to laugh or whether they're seeing something hideous and screamworthy over your shoulder."

Rather than give away all the jokes and near-jokes, I'll resort to a technique used to fine effect in many junior high school book reports:

Read this book to answer these intriguing questions: Why did Nigel Barley attend the movies in Cameroon with a wayward zoo monkey clinging to his neck? Why did Alan Zweibel bring luggage when he visited a Palm Springs nudist resort?

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, The Photography of James L. Stanfield (National Geographic Books, $40, hardcover).

Photographer Jim Stanfield has eaten rats in the Philippines and watched members of that species being fed sweets and other delicacies in an Indian temple where 40,000 to 80,000 of the creatures are considered sacred and are nicely accommodated.

Photographing "the world of rats" is the sort of assignment only National Geographic offers, and Stanfield is among the best of the rare breed of photojournalist who can make a subject captivating.

In his 33-year career Stanfield shot 63 stories in more than 100 countries. He photographed sandstorms and snowstorms, wars and weddings, landscapes, interiors and portraits. This coffee-table book offers a few of the million frames he is said to have clicked. Observe the images and then go traveling. The world will look different.

Quick trips

THE SAVVY ADVENTURE TRAVELER, What to Know Before You Go by Ellen Dudley (Ragged Mountain Press, $15.95, paper).

Put aside the question of whether consumer-coddling tour companies have stretched the term "adventure" to preposterously low standards ("the tour group arrived at a glitzy high rise hotel . . ."). This book offers solid, intelligent advice for that middle range of "adventure" travelers who seek a trip more challenging than a cruise but less stressful than an assault on Annapurna.

FODOR'S FAMILY ADVENTURES by Christine Loomis (Fodor's Travel Publications, $16, paper).

Too many guides in the burgeoning "family" sub-genre merely repackage travel company brochures and resort press releases. Loomis, the travel editor of Family Life magazine, has worked hard to dig up hundreds of gems. Examples: the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, where parents and kids, side by side with paleontologists, can search for fossils left by strange creatures, and the Northern Vermont Llama Co., where families can trek with weird living creatures.

SOUTH PACIFIC HANDBOOK by David Stanley (Moon Travel Handbooks, $22.95, paper).

Moon puts out dozens of high- quality guides. The South Pacific handbook is in its 6th edition, and it's no wonder why. Information-packed. Fine photos. Helpful maps.

KNOPF CITY GUIDES Madrid, New York, Paris, Berlin, Lisbon, London, Milan (Knopf, $14.95 each, paper).

Bright silver covers make these guides stand out. Inside, it's standard-issue (though silvery, very silvery) guidebook stuff: factoids, maps galore, photos and listings with lots of itty-bitty icons.

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

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