Travel guides are often utilitarian. The prose alternates between bubbly praise for “must see” attractions or “hidden gems” and parental tones of warning admonishing would be tourists to stay out of areas too dangerous for sore thumbs from overseas. Even though some books cater to the upscale, spare-no-expense traveler and others to the off-the-beaten-path adventure seeker, they are almost always highly formulaic, making them perfect fodder for satirists and clever take-offs.Take, for example, the Lonely Planet guide to Micronations, which takes us to homemade nations like The Principality of Sealand, the Northern Forest Archipelago, and the Kingdom of Romkerhall. These nations, which often exist only in the minds of their inhabitants, are unlikely to become tourist destinations, but the stories of people who have tried to remove themselves from our planet-wide system of independent states are interesting nonetheless.A less informative and more jocular take on the travel guide comes from the Chronicle Books Jetlag Travel Guides which instruct readers on the peculiarities of places like San Sombrero: A Land of Carnivals, Cocktails and Coups, Phaic Tan: Sunstroke on a Shoestring, and Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry. Though the books lean heavily on the humor of stereotypes, they also wring plenty of laughs out of the many pitfalls of traveling.More of a fake atlas than a fake travel book, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places provides information on locales that definitively do not exist yet are rich enough in detail and lore to be treated as though they do. “They range from the orc-ridden wastes of Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the languorous shores of Homer’s Island of the Lotus-Eaters.” A good companion to this one might be You Are Here, whose description says “maps need not just show continents and oceans: there are maps to heaven and hell; to happiness and despair; maps of moods, matrimony, and mythological places. There are maps to popular culture, from Gulliver’s Island to Gilligan’s Island.”Then there are the travel books that were created in all seriousness but which recent geopolitical events have made absurd, like the Bradt Travel Guide to Iraq, which, no joke, was a big seller at the bookstore where I worked in the few months after the American invasion. The Bradt Travel Guide to North Korea would be another good one for the truly adventurous traveler.Update:In the comments, j. godsey points us to another clever travel book, the Moon Handbooks guide to the Moon
I’m a map person. There are random maps all over the walls of my house, mostly freebies that my coworkers at the book store, knowing my interest, have passed along to me. Looking around right now I can see a “Rail Map of Europe,” “World Terrorism: a Reference Map,” and this odd, black and white, line drawing map of Illinois, among several others. When I live somewhere with enough room, I intend to have several atlases. Thus, I was excited to find today a book called You Are Here by Katharine Harmon. It’s sort of a popular history of maps with heavy focus on amateur maps, folk art maps, and maps that are related to popular culture. She is especially interested in what maps can tell us about the way we see the world. I’m looking forward to getting this one.