Saturday, May 28, 2011

Coming to America

How do we look to visitors from abroad?  Some collected views from the nineteenth century, two from the twentieth century including one from an American expat who returned after 20 years away. 

1.  I'm A Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson (1999).   An American, Bryson lived the expat life in England for 20 years and returned to this country with the sensibility of an outsider.  Some of of it dated, most all of it funny.  The good natured criticism is easier to take coming from a "member of the family" so to speak (my name for criticism that can be made only by a family member but by someone outside the family).   Bought in a bookstore of unknown origin.

I'm a Stranger Here Myself 1st (first) edition Text Only 

2.  Ciao America!  An Italian Discovers America, Beppe Severgnini (1995).  Lived for one year in a townhouse in Georgetown and develops a happy but perplexed interest in American culture.  (As an Italian, even he admits he is impressed by Americans coffee intake).   No idea where I bought this.

Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. 

3.  American Notes: A Journey, Charles Dickens (first published in 1842).  Dickens didn't like America much but then again he comes across as a bit of a curmudgeon and stick in the mud.  He writes, And I am quite serious when I say that I do not believe there are on the whole earth beside, so many intensified bores as in these United States.  His first book after returning from America is Martin Chuzzlewit set partly in a swamp in the U.S. called Eden.  Bought used and no idea where. 

American Notes (by Charles Dickens) 

4.  Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (first published in 1845; 2 vols).  A Frenchman in America in the 1830s, De Tocqueville made a serious study of American political, governmental and legal traditions as well as the American culture and spirit.  A classic.  Bought used from State Department bookstore with the inscription, Loreine and JT Kendrick, American Embassy, Warsaw, Poland, Christmas 1946. 


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Introduction to the Great Game

Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game was the door that opened my armchair travels onto the deserts and secret spies of the the shadowy war for empire in Central Asia.  Hopkirk introduced most of today's travelers to the region.  He brings to life the struggle between Tsarists Russia and Victorian England.  Their empires were first 2000 miles apart and ended up with outposts within 20 miles of each other.  Little did I know when I picked up his first book in 1995 that I would end up living and working there, in very place that I thought inhospitable and mysterious.  I bought his other books wherever I've found them.

1.  The Great Game (1990).  If you only read one of Hopkirk's books read this one.  The scene setter that brings to life the stories of Russian and English spies who risked their lives disguised as holy men or native horse traders mapping secret passes and building alliances with powerful khans.   "Borrowed" from wife.

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (Kodansha Globe) 

2.  Central Asia: A Traveler's Companion, Kathleen Hopkirk (1993).  Hopkirk's wife, Kathleen Hopkirk, a Central Asian expert in her own right with over 30 years of observations in the area, wrote what amounts to a thinking persons guide to the region.  Scholarly and exciting.  Another "borrowed" book from wife.

3.  Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire (1994).  During WWI, the Germans and Turks created a secret plot to foment a Jihad to dislodge the British from India.  The plot quickly got out of control with unintended consequences outside the region.  Bought used at State Department books store.  

Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire

4.  Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin's Dream of an Empire in Asia (1984).  Lenin's Dream was to extend the reach of Bolshevik rule across Asia.  Spies and madmen on either side of the shadowy fight.  One spy is even hired by the other side to hunt himself down.  Bought used at Dog-Eared books, Northport, Michigan.

Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin's Dream of an Empire in Asia (Oxford Paperbacks) 

5.  Quest for Kim (1996).  Hopkirk uses Kipling's Kim as his guidebook traveling the region looking for the source of its characters.  He encounters an old Tibetan Lama, a retired old British Colonel, and Indian soldiers and spies.  Bought used somewhere.  

Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling's Great Game 

Other great works of Hopkirk's still to buy:

Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia

Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Race for Lhasa

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Picture This

An eclectic set of photo books.  Some subjects can only be told by photos.  A few of the subjects I know well, others I'd like to know more about and have used them for armchair travel.

1.  Leelanau, Ken Scott & Jerry Dennis (2000).
  Portrays a sense of place in Michigan's peninsula county. Gift. 

 2.  Magnetic North, Mike Beedell (1983).  North of the tree line, above the sixtieth parallel is a spectacular landscape.  Beedell's pictures capture the land, people, wildlife and desolation.  Bought used State Department book store.

3.  Imprints, David Plowden (1997).  Plowden's subjects are the landscape of the midwest, small towns, grain elevators, machinery bridges, trains,and  gritty industrial landscapes.  There is a haunting beauty to his subjects that evoke a nostalgia for my hometown.  The nostalgia is for the machinery of an old rust belt town and the outlying countryside of farmlands.  I'm biased.  I grew up in a rust belt Ohio town where two of the photos were taken (coal docks and an abandoned limestone building near the waterfront).   Ordered online.

4.  Abandonings: Photographs of Otter Tail County, Minnesota, Maxwell MacKenzie (1995). Farmhouses, barns, churches, one-room school houses--most of them abandoned.  Forty years after he was born there, the author returned to the country where he was born on the edge of the Great Plains to photograph the disappearing structures of this Scandinavian ancestors. Bought used but can't remember where.  

5.  Acquainted with the Night, Photographs by Lynn Saville (1997). Black and white photographs of mostly city scapes.  A lone light in a building, an alley way, the silhouette of the flatiron building--all scenes without people.  Photographs accented with selected poems. Bought used, can't remember where. 

6.  Distant Shores: Photographs from Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, Richard Olsenius (1990).    Evokes the spirit of Hiawatha's Gitchegumee and the people that work the two westernmost great lakes.  Bought used but can't remember where.   

7.  Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man, Jessica Bruder (2007).  Great topic of an absurdly ambitious and vaguely disturbing festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.  Pictures are the only way to tell this story.  Christmas gift from a cousin who knew I wanted to go.


8.  Roadside America: Architectural Relics from a Vanishing Past (2010).  Beautiful book of roadside eccentricities, giant-sized cartoons, and amusements.  Gift.


Monday, May 9, 2011

To Everything There is a Season

Have you ever wanted to live in a small piece of land, isolated from the outside world and see what thoughts you'd come up, like Thoreau?   I'm waiting for the day.  Meanwhile, I'm reading about what it's like.  Some close to home and some in the middle of the desert.  

1Winter: Notes from Montana, Rick Bass (1991).  Living solo in the Montana back country.  Survival depends on the ability to use a chain saw cut wood and not yourself.  Bought used. 

 2A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold (1966).  Set in Sand County, Wisconsin, Leopold's writings about the relationship to the land.    Published by his son a year after Leopold's death .  Bought used.

A Sand County Almanac; with essays on conservation from Round River

 3Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey (1985).  First released in 1968, Abbey wrote as an eloquent loner.  He worked as a US Park Ranger living for three  seasons in the desert at Moab, Utah.  He shares his views on the land, wilderness and blends in the fictional.   Bought used  paperback at BJ's Books, Warrenton, VA

4.  Spring in Washington, Louis Halle (1947).  Not so much a story of solitude but included here more because of it's solitary, Thoreau-like spirit and his observations of the seasons.  Halle is a foreign service officer and amateur naturalist.  Through walks along the Potomac starting from winter he watches the earliest traces of Spring's first appearance in Washington.  Bought used at the State Department book store.

Spring in Washington (Maryland Paperback Bookshelf)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Scourge of God

""A man's greatest work is to break his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all the things that have been theirs, to hear the weeping of those who cherished them." 
--attributed to Ghinghis Khan and later adapted for the movie Conan the Barbarian. 

Part of my fascination with Central Asia started with a fascination with Ghengis Khan and his Mongol armies.  The Mongal conquest and destruction is unimaginalble even by today's standards.  The Mongols terrified the Chinese, Indians, Arab states, Russians and Europeans.  Referred to by Europeans of the day as the Scourge of God. 

1.  The Devil's Horseman, James Chambers (1985).  Joined the history book club in the late 1980s.  One of my first purchases.  Concise history with Ghengis Khan family tree.  Bought in the history book club.

The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe 

2.  In the Empire of Ghenghis Khan: An Amazing Odyssey Through the Lands f the Most Feared Conquerors in History, Stanley Stewart (2002).  Gift from the author.  Stewart is the best writer of the this group.  He traveled a thousand miles by horse through Mongolia.  He won the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year Award.  Full disclosure--I admired Stewart's writing so much that when I was trying to write my own book I wrote him.  He sent me a hand written note in return with suggestions about how to improve my story.  He included with copies of his books.

In the Empire of Genghis Khan: An Amazing Odyssey Through the Lands of the Most Feared Conquerors in History 

3.  The March of the Barbarians, Harold Lamb (1940).  Great sweeping narrative of the Mongols and their invasions by the scholar Harold Lamb.  He can translate his scholarly knowledge into a compelling story.  Purchased from Dog Eared Books, Northport Michigan.  

The March Of The Barbarians 

4.  Ghenghis Khan: The Empire of All Men, Harold Lamb (1927).  More from Lamb.  This one focuses on the life of Ghenghis.  Bought used but can't remember where.  Previous owner's signature, H.R. McMillion.

5.  The Secret History of the Mongols, translated and edited by Francis Woodman Cleaves (1982). Discovered as one of the oldest texts from the time of the Mongols.  A history created for Ghenghis Khan's ruling dynasty translated from Mongol.  My wife's book from her graduate studies.

Secret History of the Mongols: The Origin of Chingis Khan 

6.  Storm from the East: From Ghenghis Khan to Khubilai Khan, Robert Marshall (1992).  Beautiful full color pictures and maps that accompanied a TV series.  Bought used from State Department book store.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What's In a Name

I once drove through a small cross-roads in New Mexico marked on my Rand McNally Road Atlas as Pie Town.  I was disappointed that there seemed to be no pies around.  Ever wonder how your town or any town got its name?  Since my passage through Pie Town, New Mexico, I was inspired to find out the origin of place names.
1.  All Over the Map: An Extraordinary Atlas of the United States, David Jouris (1994).   Book is divided in themes: Musical, Mythical, Animal, Historic and contrasting place names. (But they missed Paradise and Hell Michigan.)  Bought new.

All Over the Map: An Extraordinary Atlas of the United States : Featuring Towns That Actually Exist!

2.  Storyville USA, Dale Petsrson (1999).  A quirky road trip through the more unusual town names in the US:.  Starting with Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky to Roads End, Alaska.  Bought used a book store in Amherst, MA. 

Storyville, USA

3.  American Place-Names: A Concise and Selective Dictionary For the Continental United States of America, George Stewart (1970).  A great reference guide.  And by the way, I learned here that Pie Town, NM takes its name from a man there who used to like to bake pies.  Bought used but can't remember where.  

4.  Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place-Names, Derek Nelson (1997).  Nelson looks behind names from around the world to provide entertaining windows into the history of a place.  According to Nelson, "Cartography is 20 percent geography and science...the other 80 percent is ignorance, myth, greed, the arbitrary, impulsive and ironic...."  Bought new.