Perceptive Travel Book Reviews September 2015
by William Caverlee

In this issue: Reviews of Coastlines: The Story of Our Shore, Irish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Ireland, and How To Survive Anything: A Visual Guide to Laughing in the Face of Adversity.

Coastlines: The Story of Our Shore
By Patrick Barkham

Author Patrick Barkham gets right to the heart of things on page four of Coastlines:

The British Isles are more edge than middle. Our coastline spans 10,800 miles, longer than India's, and, however far we travel inland, we are never more than seventy miles from the sea.

In this context, Barkham sets off on his survey of Enterprise Neptune, a creation of the UK's National Trust, in which some 742 miles of the shorelines of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have been preserved as public lands.

The Neptune coast ranges from quiet, little-known hillsides and coves up to spectacular natural phenomena like the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, "which attracts 600,000 paying visitors each year, far more than any other National Trust house or coastal property." Coastlines contains numerous maps and a number of excellent drawings but no photographs; thus, it took me a moment or two to recollect the eerie, truncated columns of the Giant's Causeway—I'm sure I've seen photos of it in places like National Geographic.

Barkham skips around from place to place in his survey. This is not the travelogue of a single journey, but a highlight tour, with summary pages and how-to-get-there info at the end of each chapter. (There are no visits to Scotland—they have their own national trust.)

Coastlines is a personal view, and we follow Barkham as he recalls his childhood visits to the sea, and then tag along with him today as he guides his children to some of the same places.

Among the shorelines visited: Scolt Head Island, the Undercliffs of Lyme Regis, Dover, The Isle of Wight, Lindisfarne, Seven Sisters, and Land's End. Barkham has arranged his chapters by theme: Passion, War, Work, Art, etc., and Coastlines is filled with erudite and richly rewarding examinations of British history, art, and literature as they have been manifested along the nation's shores.

All the while, Barkham maintains a lively human presence as he treks up and down hillsides and peers over cliffs. Be prepared for plenty of gorse, bracken, chalk, oystercatchers, and ringed plovers, as well as smugglers, poets, shipwrecks, and the locals who plundered the spoils. Recommended.

Irish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Ireland
By Dermot McEvoy

Irish Miscellany is an introduction to the ever-popular travel destination. Author McEvoy, born in Ireland, but now living in America, offers us a brisk, often humorous survey of his native land.

This isn't strictly a travel guide, more like a "pre-travel" guide, an attempt to touch on a few areas of Irish history and culture for anyone planning a trip to the island. Chapters have (slightly too) clever names like "Understanding Irish Slang: Don't Get Slagged Because You're an Eejit," "Michael Collins: Sex and the Single Revolutionary," "How the Irish Put the 'E' in Whiskey," and so on. McEvoy includes numerous photographs, lists, and illustrations. But only one map—which is not detailed, identifying only two cities, Dublin and Belfast.

Still, Irish Miscellany is an entertaining read, and McEvoy packs a great deal of cultural minutiae into a book of around 150 pages. Several of McEvoy's chapters concern Ireland's strife-ridden history with Great Britain, beginning in 1798 with the "first 'modern' Irish rebellion." From there, he briefly profiles a number of historical figures: Charles Stewart Parnell, Pádraig Pearse, Maud Gonne, Michael Collins, Sir Roger Casement, all the way to Bobby Sands, Gerry Adams, and Ian Paisley.

McEvoy's themes and subjects range beyond history—to Irish names, cuisine, emigration to America, literary stars, even leprechauns and faeries. I found myself learning something new on every page.

You'd never know it from his name but the legendary Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara, is a descendant of the Lynches of County Galway. Guevara's father proudly declared that "The first thing to note is that in my son's veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels."

Throughout Irish Miscellany, the author's approach to his subject is breezy, informal, and rapid-fire—which is probably appropriate for a book that is meant to be a brief introduction to Ireland, aimed at would-be visitors and armchair travelers.

How To Survive Anything: A Visual Guide to Laughing in the Face of Adversity
By Robin Barton, Ed Chipperfield, Will Cockrell, Amy Grier, and Jonathan Thompson.
Illustrated by Rob Dobi

Lonely Planet's How To Survive Anything wouldn't make a very good Christmas present for someone with an anxiety disorder. With eighty-five illustrated life-or-limb-threatening scenarios, How To Survive Anything is a worrywart's ultimate nightmare.

The book is composed of short chapters, each illustrated with the kind of jaunty, colorful, lifelike drawings you might find in a graphic novel. The book's foreword is by Ed Stafford, a real-life adventurer, who has trekked the length of the Amazon, survived a couple of months alone on an island, Castaway-style, and so on.

I feel sure that Lonely Planet chose a cartoon format in order to give the enterprise a bit of humor and bounciness. And sure enough, many of the chapters are written for fun, such as "How to survive a blind date," "How to survive singing karaoke," and "How to survive waking up with a new tattoo."

But most of the chapters address very real dangers: earthquake, tsunami, snakebite, lightning, avalanche, getting mugged, and plane crash. This latter chapter blithely informs us, "If the plane is on fire, you have just 90 seconds' survival time." Then, when instructing us on how to escape via an emergency slide, the chapter adds, "Ironically, many crash injuries occur when people get off the slide badly." Thanks for that added worry! Just when things were looking up.

Even for a book of this type, some of the chapters seem inordinately glib; e.g., "How to survive grief," "How to survive heartbreak," "How to survive in a dysfunctional family." Although we live in a world where the lodestars of wisdom are named Oprah and Dr. Phil, I can't imagine offering brief chapters like these to someone undergoing a real trauma.

Still, How To Survive Anything is filled with up-to-date and pertinent information for a number of urban and wilderness emergencies. I have to give credit to Lonely Planet for consulting dozens of experts on survival (three pages of acknowledgements at the end of the book) including a NASA astronaut, the director of the Sierra Avalanche Center, a hostage negotiator, and plenty of doctors. Amid the cartoons and jokes, How To Survive Anything can be said to serve a useful purpose.

William Caverlee is a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including The Oxford American, The Christian Science Monitor, Aviation History, Cimarron Review, The Florida Review, and Louisiana Cultural Vistas. He's the author of Amid the Swirling Ghosts and Other Essays.

See the last round of book reviews from William Caverlee

Also in this issue:

Coastlines: The Story of Our Shore

Buy Coastlines at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Irish Miscellany

Buy Irish Miscellany in your local bookstore or online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

How To Survive Anything

Buy How To Survive Anything at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

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