This book is brilliant in its simplicity: letters from writers to others, reproduced both in their original form as well as in type you can actually read, with wonderful explanatory notes, all packaged in a beautiful volume. So here is Kurt Vonnegut writing to his family after months as a prisoner of war telling them he is, in fact, alive after many travails, including the bombing of Dresden, which he survived by hiding in an underground meat locker (an experience that would inspire his 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse Five); Samuel Beckett praising Harold Pinter for his play The Homecoming (“Affectionately, Sam”); and Henrik Ibsen asking Edvard Grieg to compose incidental music for Peer Gynt. (Thus Grieg’s masterpiece “In the Hall of the Mountain King” came to be.) And who knew George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe were pen pals? Savor this book, since a more contemporary version called “Writers’ Tweets” is unlikely—and deservedly so.
Lord knows the Tour de France is arduous enough, but imagine embarking on the bike race in 1919, the day after the Treaty of Versailles was signed and straight through a deeply scarred countryside with many of the riders fresh out of the military. Dobkin does a masterful job of telling the story of the 13th Tour de France, vividly capturing the personalities and challenges of a race whose course wended past trenches and where “bird nests of barbed wire sat in irregular bundles, like rusted tumbleweeds.” No spoilers about the winner, but let’s just say one finished in first place in the hearts of the spectators and another won officially.
From the wonderful folks who brought you Atlas Obscura, the Web site that spawned books about exotic places, comes this generously illustrated guide to what the world eats and drinks, leaning, of course, to the exotic. And that includes New Jersey diners, since the authors have a knack for making most anything sound adventurous. Mopane worms from Zimbabwe; pig-blood pancakes from Finland; masato, the spit-fermented liquor from Peru—all your future favorites are here. But this is not just the Mondo Cane of foreign foods. Gastro Obscura is as much about history and customs and human nature as it is about corn smut (which, by the way, is good for you).