Six books every traveler should read this November, from those that will inspire your artistic pursuits to those that marvel at the wonders of the natural world.
There are a few things to consider as we all head into the pandemic holiday season. First, leisure travel will unfortunately continue to be minimized—which means alternate forms of “escape” are encouraged. (Hello, books!) Secondly, with the gift-buying weeks upon us, it only seems appropriate that we exchange presents that are easy to wrap, ship, and deliver. (Again, books!)
Plus, did you know that if you mail books (or even DVDs, CDs, movies, etc.) via the USPS, you can have the package postmarked as “media mail” and the postage will be way cheaper than if you sent it by regular mail? Well, now you do. Here are six books we recommend for your winter quarantine that also double as great holiday gifts for travelers.
How to Be an Artist by Jerry Saltz
Depending on where you are in the world, wintertime is synonymous with hibernation. And pandemic or not, the shut-in months are an opportune time to pick up a new hobby—or at least massage a new part of your brain. So why not give art a try? By “art,” New York Magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz doesn’t mean museum-level oil paintings or sculptures (although if those are your flavor, then by all means, let your inner artiste run wild). This is a book that offers gentle but challenging ways of shifting your perceptions. It also encourages you to try something you haven’t done before, to be braver, more experimental, and less concerned about money as a measure of success. And if you're the type of traveler who admires artwork wherever you go, be it through a country’s architecture or color palette or even its most famous art institution, How to Be an Artist will surely make you appreciate your surroundings and all its visual aspects that much more—that is, once we’re able to travel more freely again.
God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx by Desus & Mero
When people talk about New York City as a destination, they’re actually talking about Manhattan. Some trendy areas of Brooklyn or Queens, sure—but definitely not Staten Island (sorry to that island) and absolutely not the Bronx. In God-Level Knowledge Darts, the Bronx finally gets its due as the hero borough. Podcast and late-night TV hosts (and now authors) Desus and Mero know all about that—after all, growing up in the Bronx, their respective underserved communities taught them everything they need to know. Think of this book as equal parts survival guide, humorous memoir, and deep dive into the Bronx way of being. There are honest hot takes on topics like drugs, love, and relationships, the corrupt justice system, and more—and as Black and Afro-Latino men who have lived through it all, Desus and Mero aren’t wrong about any of the lessons they’ve learned.
edited by Kimberly Drew & Jenna Wortham
Prepare to make room on the coffee table. Needless to say, after a summer of national racial reckoning, the timing of this book is profound. Black Futures comprises 500+ pages of artifacts, essays, images, conversations, academic text, and more, edited by art curator Kimberly Drew and New York Times culture writer Jenna Wortham. What sets this book apart is how indicative it is of the “now times,” as evidenced by its inclusion of extremely “contemporary” works like tweets and memes. It also gives voice to many members of the next great generation of Black writers, thinkers, and artists, like playwright Jeremy O. Harris, musician serpentwithfeet, trans activist Raquel Willis, chef Kia Damon, and others. As 2020 comes to a close and we look into what will hopefully be a more optimistic 2021, it’s vital that Blackness and Black culture is a part of that future’s roadmap—hence this book’s title. As artist Alisha B. Wormsley states in her chapter of the book, “‘There Are Black People in the Future’ became my mantra,” and it should be part of everyone else’s, too.
The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs
by Jason Diamond
This year, due to the pandemic, many city-dwellers have found themselves returning to the place they may have vowed never to return: the suburbs. Almost mythical in their role in American culture, the suburbs have been many things to many people: an idealized (yet non-inclusive) utopia for family life in the 1950s, the home of American high school ennui, a wasteland of homogenous big box stores and consumerism. In this book, writer Jason Diamond invites readers to join him in a personal and well-researched examination of the nuance of suburbia and its creative exports—from the disillusioned characters in John Cheever stories to the emergence of garage rock. Diamond also digs into the prejudiced history of suburban planning, as well as the empty rise of the McMansion. For all of suburbia’s broken promises, what has it actually given us? And how has suburban culture reshaped the way our cities look today? (Looking at you, Brooklyn.) You’ll experience your next drive through the ‘burbs with fresh eyes.
Mirror Sound: The People and Processes Behind Self-Recorded Music
by Lawrence Azerrad and Spencer Tweedy
Have a musician on your holiday gift list? Mirror Sound could pass as an art book based on Daniel Topate’s exquisite photography alone, but the stories and interviews within solidify it as a practical resource for anyone interested in recording from home. Following an introduction by Carrie Brownstein, author Spencer Tweedy (the son of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy) shares his own journey with self-recording alongside intimate conversations with musicians like Vagabon, Mac DeMarco, the late Emitt Rhodes, and others. Next to images of musicians in their natural habitats, you’ll find universal advice and new approaches to making art that might spark ideas for your own creative process—even if you’re not musically inclined. It’s an encouraging companion you’ll want to keep handy for the long winter ahead.
Echoes of a Natural World: Tales of the Strange & Estranged
edited by Michael P. Daley
This is not your typical walk in the woods. Featuring 11 stories from both contemporary and fin de siècle contributors, this esoteric collection explores the fringes of our fascination with nature. In it, you’ll meet a man convinced he's found a rare form of whispering mold, witness a blazing red sunset, encounter a wizardly toad, and more. These stories dare to challenge the notion of the natural order; instead, chaos reigns in all its sensuous beauty. In a time when worldwide exploration seems like a faraway concept, this book will delight you (and your outdoorsy best friends) with playful, surreal literary escapes.