Early in Kristen Radtke’s deeply resonant graphic memoir, Imagine Wanting Only This (Pantheon, $29.95. www.kristenradtke.com) there’s a pair of subtly illustrated images that encapsulate the themes of the book as well as the impact of travel upon all of us who approach it with open hearts and minds. Radtke draws herself riding shotgun to then-boyfriend, Andrew, on a roadtrip to the crumbling city of Gary, Indiana: We view her through the passenger window of their car. But Radtke’s stroke of ingenuity is that, on top of the primary images of her face staring out the window, she draws translucent gray landscapes—the passing city reflected in the glass. The resulting effect suggests a movie being projected onto her face, a Maori-tattoo in motion, the passage of time and place imprinted on the traveler, incorporated into her identity. The layering of perception is a hallmark of the book. Radtke interpolates visual memories of her travels to the Philippines, Iceland, Angkor Wat and elsewhere with meditations on her family history; identifying and amplifying echoes between ruined cities and the decline of the human body. Seasoned travelers will also recognize Radtke’s evocation of the strange solitude one can feel spending long periods abroad: “My friends are all writing to me, jealous, asking about the town, and the wine, and the men. All I want to say is that I’m lonely as hell…there are so many expectations of what this is all supposed to look like—being happy, having an adventure.” A complex amalgam of poetry, postcards and personal essays, there is no “only” to be found in Imagine Wanting Only This.
The title of Jeffrey Tambor’s light, sometimes rib tickling memoir, Are You Anybody? (Penguin Random House, $21, www.penguinrandomhouse.com) refers to a terrible conversational gambit used by folks who find themselves in proximity to a celebrity but can’t quite put their finger on what exactly said celeb is celebrated for. It’s a question that Tambor heard plenty of before he won the career-changing role of Maura Pfefferman on Transparent. Though he’s worked steadily as a television actor since the 1970s on critically acclaimed series including The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development, Tambor’s lumbering appearance and largely beleagured secondary roles let him fly under the radar. But despite Transparent making him a more widely recognized ‘star’, it’s Tambor’s earnest everyman quality that makes his book so charming. He doesn’t write down to the reader, instead telling his not-so-unusual life story (born to Jewish immigrant parents, overweight outsider kid, found solace in the theater) in the wry, conversational tone that makes one enjoy chatting with a favorite uncle about nothing in particular. Yes, there are famous names in some of his anecdotes, and he has a surprising brush with Scientology, but Tambor is most delightful when he’s just sort of jawing on paper, whether sharing a story from Johnny Carson’s tonight show, or a quirky life lesson.
“A trail is a fine invention,” writes environmentalist Bill McKibben, introducing Karen Berger’s photo-packed and utterly inspiring Great Hiking Trails of the World (Rizzoli, $50. www.karenberger.com), “a way to get out of your house but also out of your head. Bergerm a wild-woman who has hiked over 17,000 miles, including complete through-hikes of the Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide, has collected a veritable hall-of-fame here, a set of outdoor experiences full of jaw-dropping beauty, historical relevance, and cultural discoveries. “On the Japanese Shikoku Pilgrimage,” she writes, “the clothing and traditions are the same as they were 500 years ago. In the English Lake District, golden daffodils still cover fields near the home of William Wordsworth. On the Inca Trail, we see structures that reveal the spiritual worldview of a people for whom sky, earth, and the underworld were intimately connected in every part of daily life. At the leisurely speed of two miles an hour, we have time to take it all in, to ponder, to make connections between landscapes, structures, history, and people.” This is not a utilitarian guidebook, but a wanderlust generator. The book’s stunning images combined with Berger’s thoughtful, evocative prose will serve as a blueprint for bucket lists.
Curator and writer Ed Bartlett offers a guide to global Street Art (Lonely Planet, $19.99. www.thefuturetense.net) that documents the metamorphosis of 1980s urban graffiti into “the proliferation of legal walls and organized festivals around the world.” This remarkably well-priced volume is both an endlessly perusable art book and a useful resource when planning a trip to any of its 42 featured cities— maps pinpoint the locations of major outdoor artworks in each. From Amsterdam, where artist D*Face has painted a vibrant metacommentary on street art’s predecessors (A Lichtenstein-styled comic book heroine with a speech bubble reading “I feel so incomplete” is confronted by a monster hand wielding a spraycan of hot pink paint) to Mexico City, where Guido van Helten’s enormous photorealistic image of a young girl transforms a dull cement block transit building into something softer and infinitely more welcoming, Bartlett has wisely selected images to show how both local sensitivities and global throughlines are reflected in street art worldwide. Perhaps you’ve encountered small mosaic renderings of pixel creatures from the Space Invaders video game in New York or London; but did you realize that the artist (known as Invader) has landed aliens in 72 different cities, from Istanbul to São Paolo? The book also includes several artist interviews, including one with South Africa’s intellectual and insightful Faith47, whose shares her opinion that “the context of the environment is vital…the work needs to communicate and co-create a story with the existing history of a place. I don’t want to make works that ‘take over’ an area, but rather are a part of the fabric of that space, perhaps summoning unseen spirits that might otherwise remain hidden.”