Monday, November 30, 2009

Italy or The Partly Cloudy Patriot


Author: Ettore Pettinaroli

Italy: Landscape and History looks at the natural and architectural delights of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country, it seems as if around every corner in Italy lies a beautiful Roman ruin, a wonderful Renaissance church, or a breathtaking timeless village view. But it is not just the buildings that are beautiful: Italy's landscapes—high mountains, rolling hills and valleys, and sun-washed coasts have inspired generations. Italians seem to have an innate feeling for color and design, and when you study their countryside it comes as no surprise that so many of the world's greatest artists, poets, and musicians came from this wonderful land.

After a short introduction, Italy: Landscape and History divides the country into sections on:

  • Rome and Lazio
  • Venice and the Northeast
  • Florence and Tuscany
  • Milan, Lombardy, and the Alps
  • Bolzano and the Dolomites
  • Perugia and Umbria
  • Le Marche, the Apennines, and the Adriatic Coast
  • Turin and Piedmont
  • Genoa and the Italian Riviera
  • Naples and the Amalfi Coast
  • Bari and the South
  • Palermo and Sicily
  • Cagliari and Sardinia

Each section gives a flavor of the area, its countryside and historic buildings, from the snowy Alps of the north, through the magical atmosphere of Venice and the Veneto, romantic Tuscany, and central Italy—Perugia and Umbria, Lazio and Emilia Romagna—to the hot Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Author Eugene Beer lives in Italy and loves its people, culture, language, and landscape—this allows him to present a view of the country with an insider's knowledge and eye. For anyone planning a holiday here or even just dreaming of vineyards or olive groves under blue skies, this is the book for you.

Eugen Beer has long been an admirer of Italian culture and history as well as being extremely enthusiastic about its food and wine. After living in London for 20 years he bought and restored a run down farmhouse overlooking the Etruscan city of Orvietoin Umbria. He now lives there full time with his wife, dog and two hens.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot

Author: Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell travels through the American past and, in doing so, investigates the dusty, bumpy roads of her own life. In this insightful and funny collection of personal stories Vowell — widely hailed for her inimitable stories on public radio's This American Life — ponders a number of curious questions: Why is she happiest when visiting the sites of bloody struggles like Salem or Gettysburg? Why do people always inappropriately compare themselves to Rosa Parks? Why is a bad life in sunny California so much worse than a bad life anywhere else? What is it about the Zen of foul shots? And, in the title piece, why must doubt and internal arguments haunt the sleepless nights of the true patriot?

Her essays confront a wide range of subjects, themes, icons, and historical moments: Ike, Teddy Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton; Canadian Mounties and German filmmakers; Tom Cruise and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; twins and nerds; the Gettysburg Address, the State of the Union, and George W. Bush's inauguration.

The result is a teeming and engrossing book, capturing Vowell's memorable wit and her keen social commentary.

The New Yorker

Sarah Vowell, a contributing editor to "This American Life," on National Public Radio, knows that she's not a fair-weather patriot -- at least not the kind Thomas Paine disparaged in the first installment of the "American Crisis" papers, which was written in the fall of 1776, when Washington's troops were retreating. But she can't get behind the idea of citizenship as sing-along that has been prevalent since September 11th. The Partly Cloudy Patriot (Simon & Schuster), her latest book, is a collection of radio segments and magazine pieces. Vowell, a charismatic misanthrope, repeats the mantra "We the people, we the people" to keep from freaking out on the humid, overstuffed subway. She also thinks about the Civil War "all the time, every day," vacations in Salem, and takes walking tours of Thomas Jefferson's Paris years. Fashioning herself as Clinton's "crabby little cheerleader," she admits a guilty pleasure in voting. Of the booth: "I love it in there. I drag it out, leisurely punching the names I want as if sipping whiskey in front of a fire."

Book Magazine

Neurotic and witty, this book collects fragments of Vowell's experience as an American. The author has a unique perspective on some of the nation's most celebrated events and the places where they occurred, all filtered through the prism of her occasionally weird upbringing in a family of "homebody claustrophobes" enveloped in an "Impenetrable Shield of Melancholy." The book presents a varied and engaging portrait of the author as a product of more than 200 years of American history. Though she portrays herself as a "crabby cheerleader," Vowell is a great lover of her homeland. Refreshingly devoid of pretense, these pieces will likely provide solace to those fellow citizens who are both proud and deeply embarrassed to be living in America.

Publishers Weekly

Few narrators could sound complimentary when calling Al Gore a "big honking nerd," but Vowell (Take the Cannoli), a self-proclaimed nerd, succeeds in doing just that while reading her collection of thoughtful, humorous essays on politics, patriotism and Tom Cruise (among other topics). Vowell's thin, reedy voice and halting delivery take some getting used to, but she settles into a comfortable groove by the end of the first tape, when she relates what she's learned from visiting places like Gettysburg and Witch City (otherwise known as Salem): no matter what your troubles are, "it could be worse." This is followed by an upbeat tune by They Might Be Giants, who composed the music for this audio. It's hard to resist a catchy, comical verse like, "You asked for baked potato/and they gave you fries/but that's not as sad now/is it/as the day the music died," but it's even more difficult to resist Vowell's obvious passion for history, for Al Gore and for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The full plate of special guests-including Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert and Michael Chabon-make token contributions: Colbert does an admirable impersonation of Gore and the oddly chosen O'Brien attempts to fill Abraham Lincoln's shoes. In the end, however, it is Vowell's self-deprecating wit and earnest delivery that will win over listeners. Based on the S&S hardcover (Forecasts, June 24, 2002). (Oct.)

Library Journal

Part social commentary and part standup comedy routine for the intellectually inclined, this collection of essays from Vowell, a contributing editor to NPR's This American Life, mines history and current events for insights into American life. Topics range from the quirky like an exploration of the value of pointless arcade games and Tom Cruise's "breakthrough" in Magnolia to a revealing example of how Al Gore's "Pinocchio problem" may have been manufactured during the 2000 election and the author's personal reflections on patriotism post- September 11. Interspersed are musings on presidential libraries, U.S./Canadian differences, and being a twin, as well as a history buff's view of why the field is significant. Most of these essays have appeared in print or been broadcast on NPR, but this compilation emphasizes a theme and provides an interesting contrast between pre- and post-attack life perspectives. The author's Gen-X frame of reference is clear, but the book should appeal to a wider audience of armchair historians and others who enjoy irreverent social commentary. The author wrote the similarly brash Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World and Radio On: A Listener's Diary. Highly recommended for large public libraries. Antoinette Brinkman, MLS, Evansville, IN

School Library Journal

Adult/High School-These essays and commentaries from Vowell's NPR radio appearances and other sources are curmudgeonly, critical, liberal, and, often, laugh-out-loud funny. The commentator, a self-described history nerd, wanders across the spectrum of American life from the theme-park feeling of Salem, MA, where she purchased a Witch's Crossing shot glass, to the glories of Carlsbad Caverns and the Underground Luncheonette. She belongs to a political listserv that was aghast at the results of the 2000 election, yet, joining several of the members on a road trip to protest the Inauguration, she ended up weeping as she sang the "Star-Spangled Banner." Her commitment to America and her dismay about the current direction of the government, both before and after September 11, are strongly stated, but her wit and slightly quirky outlook make reading her book a pleasure. Teens, regardless of their political leanings, will enjoy the pop-culture connections and even learn some history while smiling at her delivery. This title will work well for assignments on essay writing and even provide material for monologues.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA

Kirkus Reviews

Pop-culture commentator Vowell (Take the Cannoli, 2000) offers an engrossing take on suddenly sexy topic of love of country. Patriotism may be newly palatable to the hip masses who make up her audience on NPR's This American Life, but the author herself is the type of person who happily celebrated her 30th birthday at Grant's Tomb. In this collection of essays, she shares her obsession in a work of humor, nuance, and restrained passion, managing both to discuss America's flaws and restore readers' pride in the nation. Kicking it off with a rousing yet remarkably uncloying paean to Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address, Vowell puts the reader on notice that, sure, she's funny, but supporting the quips is a rock-solid knowledge of history. Addressing topics that range from the optimal designs of presidential libraries past and future (she advises Clinton to take a page from Nixon, whose library squarely confronts Watergate) to our tendency to make light of serious history (at Salem, she purchases a shot glass emblazoned with "Witch XING"), the author wanders through historical sites and touchstones of American culture. Vowell is no rah-rah patriot; one of her lengthiest essays is devoted to her realization during George W. Bush's inauguration that she has developed a soft spot for Bob Dole, because "he symbolizes a simpler, more innocent time in America when you could lose the presidential election and, like, not actually become the president." Not all the pieces are political; Vowell also reports on the challenges of family Thanksgivings, the joys of an arcade game called Pop-a-Shot, the appeal of dining in the underground cafeteria at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and her newfoundappreciation of Tom Cruise. Refreshing, inspiring, enchanting.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Assassination Vacation or Disneyland

Assassination Vacation

Author: Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other--a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue--it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and--the author's favorite--historical tourism.

Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are lighter diversions into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

The New York Times - Bruce Handy

Having made the commercially courageous decision to avoid the catnip that is the Kennedy name, Vowell restricts her gaze to America's first three presidential murders: those of Abraham Lincoln, Garfield and William McKinley. Mixing travelogue, history, personal essay and social criticism, she follows the loose formula perfected in two previous collections of magazine pieces and adapted versions of her appearances on public radio's ''This American Life,'' where she is a regular.

Library Journal

Vowell visits assassination sites throughout the country to consider how political violence gets manipulated. With a 13-city tour including some of the stops along her way?

School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Vowell has a perspective on American history that is definitely funny. She visits museums, historic sites, statues, libraries, anything remotely relevant to successful presidential assassins, and a few of those not so successful. This is an amusing way to learn history, but it is also an unusual look at the interconnectedness of things. Robert Todd Lincoln, "a.k.a. Jinxy McDeath," was present, or nearly so, at three assassinations-his father's, Garfield's, and McKinley's. To understand Garfield's assassin, the author spends time at the Oneida Colony in upstate New York, a religious commune that preached a combination of free love and the second coming, and connects it with Jonathan Edwards. She tracks the Lincoln conspirators through the process of plot and escape to hanging and imprisonment, even describing Dr. Mudd's enormous contribution when the plague hit the prison island of Dry Tortuga. Garfield's assassin was deeply involved in the redirection of the Republican Party after the Civil War, and McKinley's was an anarchist following, he thought, the tenets of Emma Goldman. There are family anecdotes and real scholarship in this quirky road trip. Teens will get an interesting view of one aspect of American history while picking up odd bits of information about a whole lot more. There is much to enjoy in this discursive yet somehow cohesive book.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Disneyland (Little-Known Facts about Well-Known Places)

Author: David Hoffman

Did You Know?

  • When Disneyland opened its gates on July 17, 1955, it had just eighteen rides and attractions. Today there are more than sixty.
  • The inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle came from Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany.
  • Walt Disney was afraid of mice. Though certainly well-known, Mickey Mouse is not the most recognizable character in the world; he ranks third, after Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald.
Disneyland… a magic place of dreams and adventure. In this follow-up to the popular Little-Known Facts about Well-Known Stuff, David Hoffman delves into the stories behind the happiest place on earth. Little-Known Facts about Well-Known Places goes beyond the obvious to reveal the tidbits that we have yet to discover. Covering every aspect—from the history and personalities to the landscaping and architecture—this collection of offbeat facts and figures, statistics and specifics, is guaranteed to delight a first-time visitor and surprise even the most die-hard fan. Packed with a wealth of revelations, Little-Known Facts about Well-Known Places is a must-have for Mouseketeers, information addicts, curious readers, and armchair travelers of all ages.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The National Parks or Rick Steves Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary

The National Parks: Our American Landscape

Author: Ian Shiv

For over 85 years The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has worked to safeguard and maintain the more than 58 federally protected national parks, as well as many of the more than 400 locations supervised by the National Park Service. With more than 340,000 members and 24 regional offices nationwide the NPCA represents the strength of national conservation action, with everyone working to “protect and enhance America’s National Park System for present and future generations.”

Rick Steves' Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary

Author: Rick Steves

Buon giorno! From ordering calamari in Venice to making new friends in Tuscan hill towns, it helps to speak some of the native tongue. Rick Steves, bestselling author of travel guides to Europe, offers well-tested phrases and key words to cover every situation a traveler is likely to encounter. This handy guide provides key phrases for use in everyday circumstances, complete with phonetic spelling; an English-Italian and Italian-English dictionary; the latest information on European currency and rail transportation, and even a tear-out cheat sheet for continued language practice as you wait in line at the Sistine Chapel. Informative, concise, and practical, Rick Steves' Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary is an essential item for any traveler's zainetto.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Off the Tourist Trail or Into the Wild

Off the Tourist Trail: 1,000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives

Author: DK Publishing

Off the Tourist Trail is a guide to the world's unspoiled sights and experiences. It takes a hundred clichéd tourist destinations - everything from over-visited national parks to overrated museums - and reveal 1,000 fresh and fascinating alternative options. Written by a team of travel experts, and with a foreword by Bill Bryson, this book brings vibrant cities, enchanting sights, breathtaking natural wonders and unforgettable experiences to life with informative narrative and stunning photography.

Choose your destination by theme - Ancient and Historical Sights, Festivals and Parties, Great Journeys, Architectural Marvels, Natural Wonders, Beaches, Sports and Activities, Art and Culture, and Cities - or simply flick through this sumptuous guide and be inspired. Practical advice on getting there and around, where to stay, where to eat and when to go, as well as useful 'Need to Know' facts, ensure that you get the most out of your time away.

Less crowded, generally less expensive, and often more spectacular and rewarding, these lesser-known wonders of the world encourage readers to ditch the famous but well-worn choices, reminding them what real travel is all about - escaping the everyday and embracing the new.

Vacations will never be the same again.

Into the Wild

Author: Jon Krakauer

In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. He had given $25,000 in savings to a charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet and invented a life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. Jon Krakauer brings Chris McCandless's uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows and illuminates it with meaning in this mesmerizing and heartbreaking tour de force.

Entertainment Weekly

It may be nonfiction, but Into the Wild is a mystery of the highest order.

San Francisco Chronicle

Compelling and tragic...Hard to put down.

Portland Oregonian

Haunting...few outdoor writers can match Krakauer for bringing outside adventure to life on the page.

Publishers Weekly

After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska, where he went to live in the wilderness. Four months later, he turned up dead. His diary, letters and two notes found at a remote campsite tell of his desperate effort to survive, apparently stranded by an injury and slowly starving. They also reflect the posturing of a confused young man, raised in affluent Annandale, Virginia, who self-consciously adopted a Tolstoyan renunciation of wealth and return to nature. Krakauer, a contributing editor to Outside and Men's Journal, retraces McCandless' ill-fated antagonism toward his father, Walt, an eminent aerospace engineer. Krakauer also draws parallels to his own reckless youthful exploit in 1977, when he climbed Devils Thumb, a mountain on the Alaska-British Columbia border, partly as a symbolic act of rebellion against his autocratic father. In a moving narrative, Krakauer probes the mystery of McCandless' death, which he attributes to logistical blunders and to accidental poisoning from eating toxic seed pods.

The New York Times

Terrifying...eloquent...A heart-rending drama of human yearning.

The Washington Post

Gripping stuff...a detailed narrative of arresting force.

LA Times Book Review

Engrossing...with a telling eye for detail, Krakauer has captured the sad saga of a stubborn, idealistic young man.

The Seattle Times absorbing story.

Voice Literary Supplement

A clear refinement of character, spirit, peace.

The Portland Oregonian

Haunting...few outdoor writers can match Krakauer for bringing outside adventure to life on the page.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The National Parks or More Diners Drive Ins and Dives

The National Parks: America's Best Idea

Author: Dayton Duncan

The companion volume to the twelve-hour PBS series from the acclaimed filmmaker behind The Civil War, Baseball, and The War

America’s national parks spring from an idea as radical as the Declaration of Independence: that the nation’s most magnificent and sacred places should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. In this evocative and lavishly illustrated narrative, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, through the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres.

The authors recount the adventures, mythmaking, and intense political battles behind the evolution of the park system, and the enduring ideals that fostered its growth. They capture the importance and splendors of the individual parks: from Haleakala in Hawaii to Acadia in Maine, from Denali in Alaska to the Everglades in Florida, from Glacier in Montana to Big Bend in Texas. And they introduce us to a diverse cast of compelling characters—both unsung heroes and famous figures such as John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ansel Adams—who have been transformed by these special places and committed themselves to saving them from destruction so that the rest of us could be transformed as well.

The National Parks
is a glorious celebration of an essential expression of American democracy.

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review.

Duncan and Burns, who last teamed on Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip, rejoin in this visually stunning guide to the unforgettable landscapes and fascinating history of America's national parks. A companion to the documentary miniseries, this book provides not only an armchair tour of the parks but lessons in American history and biography, as Duncan and Burns attempt to answer the question, "Who are we?" through the foundation and legacy of American conservation. From Yellowstone, the first national park, to Acadia to the Everglades, readers will learn the origins of many of the parks, monuments, and historic areas across the U.S., illustrated with more than a century's worth of photographs. A recurring theme throughout history has been the value and purpose of conservation and beauty, versus utility and tourism, and the story of the parks brings it into brilliant focus; readers will meet characters like John Muir, Horace Albright, Stephen Mather, Adolph Murie, and others who helped create the existing park system (with no shortage of attention paid to Theodore Roosevelt). Likely to inspire adventure-seekers of all generations, this broad, deep, evocative survey is just the kind of volume readers have come to expect from filmmaker and cultural historian Burns.

More Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: A Drop-Top Culinary Cruise Through America's Finest and Funkiest Joints

Author: Guy Fieri

Join New York Times bestselling author and Food Network star Guy Fieria for a second helping of the best diners, drive-ins, and dives across America!

Guy Fieri strikes again with More Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, giving you a road map to road food that's earned its culinary citizenship in "Flavortown." Join Guy on a cross-country noshing parade, mapping out the best places you've never heard of—more than fifty establishments off the beaten path. Compete in a (no hands) apple-pie-eating contest at Bobo Drive-In in Topeka, Kansas, dip your taste buds in Sweet Spicy Love sauce at Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken in Memphis, Tennessee, and get a load of the killer four-cheese mac-and-cheese at Gorilla Barbeque in Pacifica, California. Filled with Guy's hilarious voice and rampant enthusiasm for these hidden culinary gems, More Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is the perfect book for lovers of the American food scene and fans of Triple D.