Perceptive Travel Book Reviews November 2017
by William Caverlee

In this issue: a bike ride across America while examining climate change, a scrapbook of a year in Paris, and a richly photographed collection of movie shooting locations.

A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist's Bicycle Journey Across the United States
By David Goodrich

An ever-popular sub-category of the travelogue is the American road trip. And a sub-sub-category is the cross-country bicycle tour. Hats off to all those daring cyclists who risk their necks on American highways amid potholes, rain, lightning, and whizzing eighteen-wheelers.

For my money, I would choose to cross the continent by rail—ideally, in a bygone era, when the Twentieth Century Limited would transport me from New York to Chicago, after which I would board the California Zephyr for the balance of the trip to Oakland, all the while sampling the dining car’s best, three times a day, with a comfy berth in a Pullman sleeper awaiting at the end of day. But that’s me.

In 2011, the scientist and former director of the U.N. Global Climate Observing System, David Goodrich, made a solo bike ride from Delaware to Oregon. The trip lasted three months and covered 4,208 miles.

Goodrich is a fine writer, and A Hole in the Wind is filled with vignettes, meetings, and encounters with Americans of every stripe and description. Like many cross-country journeys, the enterprise has about it an air of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, plus a touch of Charles Kuralt’s On the Road.

Amid his genial and humane portraits of the many Americans he meets, Goodrich weaves in a description of the current state of science on climate change—this is clearly a prime motivation for the writing of the book.

My only quibble with A Hole in the Wind is the author’s inclusion of numerous pages on his additional American bike tours in recent years. Nothing wrong with an author alluding to his own experiences, but I would have preferred it if the book had confined itself to the main tour of 2011.

But that’s a minor criticism. All in all, A Hole in the Wind is an excellent, engaging travelogue and a timely, cogent discussion of climate change. Goodrich has included color photographs, maps, and an appendix listing equipment, supplies, and tips for would-be cross-country cyclists.

A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World
By Janice MacLeod

Janice MacLeod, a Canadian in Paris, created A Paris Year as a kind of replica of her year-long journal of her explorations of the famous city. The result is a bright and colorful miscellany, filled with photographs; watercolors; notes; drawings; menus; quotations from writers; images of French postage stamps; small splotches of color samples; faux masking tape on the sides of photos as if they were real snapshots affixed to a real journal; and even faux ink splatters. Also, the accompanying text is printed in an informal, semi-cursive font, rather than a book’s usual, more formal font.

Described in this way, the enterprise might strike a curmudgeon as a tad overdone, but MacLeod is an alert observer and a good writer. A Paris Year makes for an entertaining, informative, and charming introduction to life in the city.

The French love bits of paper. They adore saving postcards, collecting stamps, shuffling reports, and photocopying documents. Many spend entire careers just moving papers around. Years later, these bits of paper end up in flea markets where they are sold to other French people collecting more bits of paper. The home décor TV shows even feature big bookshelves of binders for people to neatly collect their papers. It’s either a collective love of paper or a collective neurosis. I’m not sure which.

MacLeod’s photographs and watercolors alone make A Paris Year worth browsing: street scenes, café scenes, gardens, rooftops, Metro signs, street art, flowers, food, windows, leaves of every color, and plenty of Parisians.

For veteran travelers to Paris, a few of MacLeod’s observations and tips might seem aimed at the first-time visitor, but clearly she has roamed far and wide in the city and has made many discoveries of value to novices and veterans alike.

The format of A Paris Year is that of a calendar/journal, with a page devoted to nearly every day of the year, from January 1 to December 30. (I counted around 260 days.) At the top of each page is the name of a saint: St. Agnès, St. Bernardin, St. Clarisse, and so on. It turns out that in France, you get to celebrate twice: your birthday and your name day. . . Santé.

movie filming locations

Film & TV Locations: a Spotter's Guide
By Laurence Phelan and Lonely Planet

For the movie buffs among us, Lonely Planet has compiled a collection of 102 locations of some of cinema and television’s best-known titles. Most of the entries consist of a single iconic photograph and a paragraph or two of descriptive text.

It was easy to find my own favorite: the scene in Roman Holiday, in which Gregory Peck scares the living daylights out of Audrey Hepburn by pretending to have his hand bitten off in a legendary marble “mouth.” According to movie lore, this was a practical joke on the young Hepburn, and her subsequent shock, relief, and anger is preserved in the film—no acting required.

Other filmgoers will probably seek out the scenes from big hits like Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Bourne Identity, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and Game of Thrones. This last was partly filmed in Dubrovnik, Croatia:

It has variously been called the Croatian Athens and the Pearl of the Adriatic, but it will be a long time before people stop thinking of it as King’s Landing, Westeros, capital of the Seven Kingdoms.

To their credit, the editors made a number of interesting choices for inclusion: Battleship Potemkin, Vertigo, The Battle of Algiers, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Third Man, La Dolce Vita, and other favorites of art-house audiences.

My choice for best photo in the book is the shot of Wyoming’s Devils Tower, featured in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A dazzling image. For a time, after seeing the movie, I thought that the outlandishly photogenic Devils Tower was a product of Steven Spielberg’s imagination. But it’s not. You can go to Wyoming and see it for yourself.

William Caverlee is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous magazines and literary journals, including The Oxford American, Cimarron Review, Flight Journal, The Florida Review, and Louisiana Cultural Vistas. His work appears in The Writer’s Presence: A Pool of Readings, and 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:

Hole in the Wind

Buy A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist's Bicycle Journey Across the United States at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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My Paris Year book

Buy A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Buy on Amazon

Film and TV locations

Buy Film and TV Locations: Scout out the world's top spots for famous film and TV scenes at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Buy on Amazon