By Eddie Lin
Never has a book I've had lying around my house gotten as much attention as this one. (Including ones I wrote myself, unfortunately.) Anyone who walks by simply has to pick it up and start browsing. It doesn't take long before there's a cry of "Ewwwww!" When my daughter had a birthday sleepover with five of her friends, this book was more popular than the DVD they watched. Nobody will ever say this $10 full-color title isn't a good value.
As you can imagine, it's all about food. Crazy, disgusting, unbelievably wretched dishes that some cultures somewhere think are worth eating. We're talking maggot cheese from Sardinia, duck embryos from the Philippines, fermented shark meat from Iceland, fish sperm from Japan, and pickled cobra from Vietnam. Each of these extreme cuisines is accompanied by a nasty photo and text in five categories including "How it Works" and "The Experience."
Some of these are more edible than others, like Turducken from the southern U.S. (turkey, duck, and chicken cooked together), chicha corn beer from the Andes (most of it is not made using any spit), and corn fungus from Mexico---used as an ingredient like truffles in many a gourmet Mexican restaurant. And millions of Asians think durian is delectable. But that's kind of the point: one person's "Ugh!" is another person's "Yum!" In some cases there's a clear "what you grow up" divide. The durian is to Thailand what Vegemite is to Australia what foie gras is to, well, foodies. But scorpions or tarantulas? Some things are just plain nuts.
For pure entertainment value, this one is a gem. Pick up one for a friend: it'll be a gift they won't forget.
Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling with Kids
By Leslie Forsberg and Michelle Duffy
Every year a few new books come out on traveling with kids. After all, each year there's a new crop of potential buyers. As a traveling parent though I can say many of them fall short. They either assume every parent dreams of being a hardcore kid-carrying globetrotter or they assume most parents think the ultimate vacation involves either Disney, Hawaii, or an all-inclusive resort.
The best ones straddle both worlds and are more like strategy guides, giving parents the tools they need to keep things running smoothly without spelling out every single potential pitfall. This Traveling with Kids books fits into that category nicely, with most of the info a new traveling parent will need. There are sections on dining, packing, cultural differences, and the seldom-pleasant experience of flying in the USA with a baby or toddler. Lessons learned and bites of advice are scattered throughout the book, adding to the experiences of the two authors. You get most of the information you would expect in a good book of this kind: packing lists, medical considerations, budgeting tips, and lodging advice. The authors obviously asked a lot of questions of other mothers also to make sure they weren't overlooking anything.
There are a few oddities that keep this from being my most-recommended title of this genre though. The most glaring one is that this is really aimed at women only: both the writers are female and virtually all of the examples and anecdotes inside are from moms. As such, some of the advice seems more neurotic and worry-prone than it would be coming from the traveling dads I've met in my travels. Some of the sidebars are so brief as to be useless (like the one on guidebooks) and the websites section in the back seems like an afterthought, with all the listings in alphabetical order instead of being grouped into any logical categories.
Despite a few quibbles though, this book excels far more than it sputters. Its 300+ pages of advice will help nearly any tentative mom prepare for getting away from home with one or more little ones along.
Clean Breaks: 500 new ways to see the world
By Jeremy Smith and Richard Hammond
I am looking forward to the day when we see the end of this parade of me-too list books with large numbers in the title. At least in this new one from Rough Guides the "500 Ways to..." subtitle is composed of much smaller type than the "Clean Breaks" part, making me hope that even the publishers are kind of embarrassed about this trend that refuses to die.
The formula obviously works though: pack some certain number of short vignettes loosely based on a single topic into one fat package that can retail for more than your average book. Consider this a thicker counterpart to Lonely Planet's Code Green (which seems to already be out of print). It's a book about 500 adventures that are eco-friendly, sustainable, or more loosely, beneficial to local communities. Think staying in a Ukranian yurt or hiking through the cloudforests of Ecuador. In general the theme can stretch pretty far without being too restrictive. The two authors, who are co-editors of GreenTraveller.co.uk, clearly know their stuff and they do an admirable job of rounding up 500 adventures that won't tax your conscience. They also pepper the pages with interesting sideshows, like the longest rail journeys on each continent, the various confusing "eco labels and awards," and the general carbon impact of taking different forms of transportation from London to other spots in Europe.
Unfortunately, like the Rough Guides Ultimate Adventures book we reviewed a year ago, any well-traveled reader is going to start finding holes and odd areas of author favoritism as soon as the maps start appearing. There are 27 entries for the country of South Africa for instance, but only two for adventure-crammed Chile and one (a lighthouse hotel) in the sizable country of Turkey. There are five entries for not-so-green New York City—odd enough on its own—but then a vast section of the U.S. stretching from The Dakotas to the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico is blank except for the Florida Everglades. Only one project is highlighted in voluntourism-heavy Guatemala. There are five adventures listed in Tasmania, but poor Korea doesn't even get a mention.
Of course the appeal of these books is to serve as a photo-filled dream machine anyway. Nobody can hit even a fraction of these. Many readers will never stay at any of the swanky eco-lodges and luxe safari camps highlighted in here, while others would never dream of roughing it in the backcountry as other excursions require. With almost no prices listed or even a hint of whether a given trip is affordable, readers follow the listed websites after the short descriptions instead to find out.
Following the lead of the content, the book is printed on paper sourced from sustainable projects and printed with vegetable-based inks. As an idea generator that will sit on the coffee table for occasional browsing, this 2.4-pounder will pull its weight.
Perceptive Travel editor Tim Leffel is author of several books, including The World's Cheapest Destinations, now in its 3rd edition. He once wrote bios and marketing copy for now-forgotten rock bands, but he currently spits out more heartfelt raves on the Cheapest Destinations Blog and the Practical Travel Gear Blog.