An Atlas of….

I’ve always been fascinated by atlases. So much so that if a book has the phrase ‘atlas of’ somewhere in the title my interest is instantly piqued. ‘The History of Paperclips’ sounds like a snooze fest. ‘An Atlas of Paperclips’ on the other hand just might be the ticket. If you haven’t looked at an atlas since high school and perhaps think of them as antiquated and stodgy, now is a great time to get back in the atlas game. You see long gone are the days when atlases simply depicted the geography of countries and continents. They have now branched out to cover a diverse number of really interesting topics. Still skeptical? Take a look at these new and on order titles here at the library and prepare to expand your definition of the atlas.

An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist
In addition to having one of the greatest titles for an atlas that I’ve ever come across, this book is practically a work of art. Each map is die-cut out of the page and beautifully illustrated making this work more akin to an adult picture book than an atlas. Fascinating information about the history and claims to statehood of each country is included, however, making this work no fairy tale.

National Geographic Atlas of Beer
This is definitely an atlas with a singular theme and that theme is beer. Breaking down beers by country and region is the order of the day with graphs, charts and lots of detailed definitions that beer lovers are sure to appreciate. In addition, each geographical entry has a Beer Guide which points you to the best places to sample the suds of your dreams in each area.

Family Tree Historical Atlas of American Cities
Officially conceived as an aid to genealogical research, this atlas turns out to be much more. Maps for sixteen major American cities are produced in different historical periods so you can see how the cities changed over time and get a sense of the physical space the residents lived in. Though heavily east coast centric, with only San Francisco and Los Angeles representing the west, it is still a fascinating walk back through time.

The World Atlas of Street Fashion
Miles away from the world of haute couture, this atlas documents the clothes worn by everyday people trying to make a statement. Divided by continent, country and city you can learn about diverse clothing movements such as Modern Primitive, Normcore, Goth, Italo-Disco, K-Pop and many more. Particularly interesting is the way you can trace a style across continents, such as Punk, and see how it is interpreted by many different cultures.

Cinemaps: An Atlas of Great Movies
This unique and beautifully illustrated atlas creatively represents the plot lines and characters of key scenes in 35 beloved films. While a classic film or two is represented, including Metropolis and North by Northwest, most are thankfully on the popular side with maps for the likes of The Princess Bride, Back to the Future, several Star Wars and Star Trek incarnations, and even Shaun of the Dead. Each map is quite detailed so it is a help to have essays from film critic A.D. Jameson to help refresh your memory.

Lonely Planet’s Atlas of Adventure
Definitely not for the faint of heart, this atlas sets out to list the best places around the world for outdoor adventure. ‘Adventure’ can mean relatively benign activities such as hiking and biking, but also includes the rather terrifying, to this old man, activities of gorge scrambling, freeriding and skyrunning. With over 150 countries listed there is clearly plenty to do. Just be careful man.

So I hope this brief tour of new atlases has piqued your interest and shown you just how cool they can be. If not, I’m still fine with the label of atlas nerd. Though atlas aficionado does sound classier.

Let’s Go to Antarctica

life on the iceOf the many surprises I discovered while chuckling my way through this year’s Everett Reads selection, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, the one that stood out the most was the fact that Antarctica is now considered a tourist destination. As Bee repeatedly points out to Bernadette, this isn’t travel to the frigid South Pole that we are talking about, but a visit to the Antarctic Archipelago that reaches out to the tip of South America. Still I’ve always thought of travel to Antarctica as being limited to brave, perhaps foolhardy, explorers, penguins and the occasional shape shifting creature from another planet. Clearly I needed to do a little library research.

ridingthehulahulaWhile there aren’t any Frommer‘s or Fodor’s guides to the frozen continent as of yet, which makes sense since hotels with any star rating are nonexistent, Antarctic cruises are mentioned in a number of travel guides. These tend to be the ones that extol the virtues of ‘extreme or adventure’ tourism.  A cruise to the Antarctic Archipelago merits an entry in the rather ominously titled Unforgettable Journeys to Take Before You Die as well as 1000 Places to See Before You Die. The less morbidly titled Riding the Hulahula to the Arctic Ocean: A Guide to Fifty Extraordinary Adventures for the Seasoned Traveler details a trip to Antarctica that would actually get you on the continent itself, after a very bumpy ride in a cargo plane. Whichever option you choose, be sure to bring a healthy bank account and lots of Dramamine.

slicing the silenceIf you have dreams of an extended stay, however, you are beyond the realm of tour guides. You might be able to get a hint or two, however, from some of the autobiographies of the modern-day scientists and adventurers who have managed to gain access. Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica details the author’s trip with the Australian Antarctic Division to deliver a new team of winterers to Casey station. The author of Life on the Ice: No One Goes to Antarctica Alone got a commission from National Geographic to visit many of the bases in Antarctica and report back. His account is an intriguing look at the living conditions and the motivations of people who are drawn to the white continent. For an account of pure adventure and survival in the harshest of conditions, definitely check out No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women and Their Extraordinary Journey Across Antarctica which describes the journey of Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen as they became the first women to cross the continent on foot.

antarcticwildlifeIf like most of the world population you don’t have the money or connections to get to Antarctica, you can still view the landscape and wildlife vicariously. An excellent tool for doing this is Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitors Guide. Flip through the pages and imagine you are having trouble distinguishing the Leopard Seal from the Weddell Seal and the Gentoo Penguin from the Adelie Penguin. It certainly won’t be as cold a trip and icebergs should not be a problem. A final set of resources for armchair travel to Antarctica are the many webcams that have been set up at the various research bases that dot the continent. McMurdo Station, the South Pole Station and several from the Australian Antarctic Division are good ways to get your voyeuristic travel thrills. Just don’t expect to see much during the many months of darkness during the southern winter.

Marhaba and Salaam (Welcome & Peace)

This past November, I spent several incredible weeks in Egypt and Jordan.  Of course, being a librarian, I had to visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria. It’s a stunning building surrounded by water to give the effect of floating. The building’s curve is covered on the outside with a gray granite wall that displays letters from the alphabets of some 120 languages. One walks through a small entrance into the entrance hall, which then leads to the main building with its soaring columns and astonishing ceiling (meant to represent eyes with eyelids). These features allow light to enter, but also protect against the sun’s rays. There you experience the reading room which is the largest in the world. The library’s collection has yet to reach the magnificence of the original library’s collection which is discussed in The Library of Alexandria : Centre of learning in the ancient world. However, the library does maintain the only copy and external back up of the Internet archive!

Sphinx and Khufu PyramidAfter visiting Alexandria and Cairo, we took an overnight train to Luxor, where we boarded a boat and set sail to Aswan. While floating down the Nile on a felucca in Aswan, we could see the Cataract hotel (currently undergoing renovations) where Agatha Christie stayed while writing Death on the Nile  in the mid 1930s. Christie had married an archeologist by this time and her knowledge of Egypt and the Middle East is obvious in her descriptions of the ancient sites.

Before traveling to Egypt I read Dreamers of the Day by Maria Doria Russell which is about a 40 year old single woman who, after the death of her family members from influenza, decides to travel with her beloved dachshund to the Middle East just as the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference convenes. There she meets, among others, T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill who include her on several of their outings.

Wadi Rum in south JordanAfter entering Jordan through Aquaba (captured by Lawrence during WWI) we spent a night with the Bedouin in Wadi Rum where there is a rock formation also called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. On the way to this breathtakingly beautiful nature reserve, which Lawrence visited several times, we crossed the railway tracks several sections of which had been destroyed by him with the aid of the local Bedouin in 1917 & 1918.  For a complete description of Lawrence’s time in the Middle East, I recommend reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

I found several children’s books helpful while preparing for my travels for their descriptions of Egypt past and present including: Egyptian Diary : The journal of Nakht and Egyptology. For older readers, 1988 Nobel Literature Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy and Larence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet describe these cities and their peoples’ recent past. There are many more titles that cover this interesting part of the world in Everett Public Library’s collection. And remember, if we don’t own the title you want, you can always request an Inter-Library Loan. Ask a librarian!

Sue