When folks talk about "gift books," they usually mean big, pricey, lavishly illustrated volumes. But there's no reason why books of a more regular sort, the kind meant strictly for reading, can't make good gifts as well. Here, then, are some travel-related "gift books" of a different kind:
FLINGING MONKEYS AT THE COCONUTS: A Traveler's Companion of Quotations collected and edited by Trevor Cralle (Ten Speed Press, $9.95 paper).
Trevor Cralle, author of "The Surfin'ary: A Dictionary of Surfing Terms and Surfspeak," has assembled here an eccentric collection of observations about travel, literary and otherwise, ancient and modern, witty and banal. Some obvious names (among them Jan Morris, Ernest Hemingway, Sir Richard Burton and Antoine de Saint-Exupery) show up repeatedly. But there are also some surprises--for instance, Diane Arbus confessing that "My favorite thing is to go where I have never been" and Che Guevara proposing that "Homesickness starts with food." There is much to enjoy among the fragments that Cralle has compiled. My only criticism is that there is also a fair amount of repetition of sentiment and more than a bit of nonsense ("But if you travel far enough, one day you will recognize yourself coming down the road to meet yourself," Canadian Jungian analyst Marion Woodman assures us). Still, this would be a fine gift for any traveler on your list, armchair variety included.
COLLECTED TRAVEL WRITINGS: Great Britain and America and COLLECTED TRAVEL WRITINGS: The Continent by Henry James (The Library of America, $35 each hardcover).
Though American by birth, Henry James--author of such finely crafted if sometimes impenetrable classics as "The Americans," "Daisy Miller," "The Ambassadors" and "The Turn of the Screw"--lived and went to school in various parts of Europe as a child and spent more than half his life in England. He also traveled extensively as an adult, with notebook obviously in hand. These two volumes, edited by poet Richard Howard, contain virtually all of James' works on travel. As a writer in this field, James is dense but often surprisingly amusing, and he views many of his destinations with a jaundiced eye. "In America," he writes, for instance, "there are few grotesques; in England there are many--and some of them have a high plastic, historic, romantic value." He can also be eloquently evocative, as when he writes of the Bay of Lerici on Italy's Ligurian coast, "The bosky grey-green hills close it in, and on either side of the entrance, perched on a bold headland, a wonderful old crumbling castle keeps ineffectual guard." A fine gift for any literary-minded friend, traveler or not.
MILES AWAY: A Walk Across France by Miles Morland (Random House, $21 hardcover).
Miles Morland was born in India, grew up in Iran, Iraq and Britain's Channel Islands (among other places), studied law at Oxford, worked for 20-odd years in banking, was one signature away from a divorce and then was reunited with his wife, walked some 350 miles with said wife across the foothills of the French Pyrenees from Gurissan-Plage on the Mediterranean to Capbreton on the Atlantic, and now lives on a houseboat on the Thames. With a resume like that, who needs to write a book? But a book he has written, about that walk, and about himself and his relationship with his wife, and about the food and sights and sites of a particularly beautiful part of France. Morland writes honestly and often amusingly, evoking both aching feet and warming hearts. Recommended for Francophiles, the romantically inclined and anybody looking for a pleasant read.
Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.