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Travel books: On our bookshelf

In celebration of World Book Day, we've picked out our favourite travel books of the past six months, from a very English walking guide to a photo study of late-1970s New York nightlife

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Published 1 Mar 2016, 15:03 GMT, Updated 9 Jul 2021, 18:21 BST
Walking Caer Caradoc heading for The Lawley, Shropshire, England

Walking Caer Caradoc heading for The Lawley, Shropshire, England

Photograph by Getty Images

Long to rain over us

We love to moan about it, but we'd be lost without it. So argues this lyrical tome, which examines how rain has shaped our landscape, language and national psyche

Without rain, the English national stereotype would suggest, we'd have nothing to grumble about. It permeates our sense of identity; it is, according to the author of this wonderfully lyrical book, Melissa Harrison, 'co-author of our living countryside; it is also part of our deep internal landscape'.

We need it to survive, she argues, and yet we spend most of our time trying to avoid it, and cursing its many names (no fewer than 100 are defined in this book). Harrison explores our relationship with wet weather, taking four walks across different English landscapes in different seasons: Wicken Fen in winter, Shropshire in a budding spring, the Darent Valley in soggy summer and Dartmoor in autumn.

Shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Novel Award for At Hawthorn Time, Harrison — who writes a monthly nature column in The Times — doesn't offer up this book as a weighty botanical tome. It is instead a nature lover's glimpse into hedgerow and lane, hilltop and woodland, blending meteorological-minded poetry, entomology and old folk idioms with pinsharp observations about everything from berries to bird song. The result is as delightful and comforting as the sound of rain on a roof.

Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, by Melissa Harrison, is published by Faber & Faber in association with the National Trust. RRP: £12.99

The Last Days of Disco

Disco, the Bill Bernstein Photographs provides an access-all-areas tour of late-1970s New York nightlife, via a collection of photographs that charts glittery nights at Studio 54, The Mud Club, GG's Barnum Room and more

In the late 1970s, New York newspaper The Village Voice sent photographer Bill Bernstein on an assignment to Studio 54 to photograph an awards presentation dinner for the then president's mother, Lillian Carter. As this sedate affair drew to a close, club regulars rolled in and Bernstein quickly realised this was the real story. He bought 10 rolls of film from another snapper and settled in for the night.

This isn't just another book about Studio 54. Yes, there are tantalising close-ups of Warhol, Jagger and the like, but you'll find many more of nameless dancers, posers and voguish voyeurs in this collection of — very often previously unpublished — photos.

Bitten by the disco bug, Bernstein spent the next three years capturing images at New York's clubs he felt recalled a pre-war Berlin cabaret.

At many of them, trapeze artists and roller skaters rubbed shoulders with everyone from Wall Street stockbrokers to drag acts — before it all came to an abrupt end in 1980, at least in NY, with AIDS, the IRS closing down Studio 54 and a punk backlash.

Some of the photos — taken from an archive of 420 rolls of film left untouched for 35 years — will be exhibited at the Serena Morton Gallery in London this month.

Disco, the Bill Bernstein Photographs. RRP: £40 (Reel Art Press)

The Wonder Garden

Explore five of the planet's most extraordinary habitats in this new picture book full of fantastical illustrations by Icelandic artist Kristjana S Williams. A must for children and wide-eyed adults alike

Step through the ornamental, golden-gated cover of this truly gorgeous new picture book to take an educational tour of the Amazon, the Barrier Reef, the woodland of the Black Forest, the Himalayas and the Chihuahuan desert, where life must thrive on less than 10 inches of rain a year.

In each habitat, Williams offers intricately detailed engravings and illustrations of the mammals, birds, reptiles and insects within, rich with almost iridescent shades of fuchsia and carmine.

While it's aimed at ages 7-10, many wildlife or art-loving adults would get a kick out of having this jewel-like book brighten up their coffee table. Accompanying the illustrations is text by Jenny Broom, writer and editor of children's books including Animalium, which was named children's book of the year by The Sunday Times.

She teaches us about everything from poison-dart frogs to black caiman, with a Through The Looking Glass aesthetic that sweetens the stats, facts and figures.

The result is a book that details over 80 animals in five habitats and, we'd imagine, will inspire another generation of travellers to help protect and explore our natural world.

The Wonder Garden, by Kristjana S Williams and Jenny Broom. RRP: £20 (Quarto Publishing)

Just like mamma made it

A new food and travel book by Sarah Barrell, National Geographic Traveller's associate editor, journeys to the source of Italy's iconic recipes

Perhaps nowhere else in the world is food and travel so intertwined as the beloved boot. 'Italy's produce,' says this glossy, photo-led hardback 'from its grains to its grapes, its olives to its truffles, forms culinary maps of the country.'

It's the ultimate locavore's destination, where farm-to-fork dining isn't a fad but part of the national DNA.

This fascinating tome — harvesting 60 recipes that define Italian regions, revealing the places and stories behind their creators — is part of a new series set to tackle such foodie hotspots as Thailand and Spain.

Home of the Slow Food movement and birthplace of a number of the world's most exported dishes — from pizza to gelato, bolognaise to carbonara, Italy is arguably the destination for gourmets, gluttons and casual grazers.

The dishes detailed in this book are direct from the kitchens where they were perfected. Take a journey to the source of such storied recipes as pasta al ragu, in Bologna, tiramisu from Treviso and risotto alla Milanese and find out about dishes that have been handed down for generations, if not centuries. From terracotta-roofed medieval towns to leafy hilltop villages, sunny seaside resorts to Italy's big cities, meet plain-talking street-food vendors, award-winning home cooks and celebrity chefs with starry Michelin restaurants. If you fancy an authentic taste of Italy, then bite into this book.

From the source: Italy. RRP: £19.99 (Lonely Planet)

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