By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
“Photo books are my addiction,” writes Nat Geo’s Sarah Leen, who was the first woman director of photography in the magazine’s history. She should know: she has 606 picture books in her home—and they are proliferating during the pandemic.
Photo books take us on journeys to places near and far, past and present. The language of these journeys is visual—these trips are about texture, intimacy, and inquiry as they introduce us to people, places, and experiences we ordinarily would not have encountered.
One foundational book she recommends is The Americans by Robert Frank, who in the 1950s focused his lens on overlooked scenes across the U.S., from diners (above) to factories to portraits of people bound (or unbound) by nationality. Reading the book feels like traveling in time—and in good company; the foreword is by On The Road author Jack Kerouac.
What photo books are taking you on an adventure? Share with our well-read community by tagging us on Twitter (#natgeotravelbookclub). Here are a few of Sarah’s favorites:
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Will we ever holiday like this again? That’s what Sarah wondered after Entering a New World—Massimo Vitali’s new book on sun-splashed places around the globe. “Paging through the vivid, large-scale color images feels almost unreal and unimaginable now,” she writes.
New friends: For his book The Year of the Dogs, Nat Geo photographer Vincent J. Musi spent a year in his studio photographing pooches, including Peetrie, a toy poodle. Sarah writes that her delight with this book is genuine: “I’m a dedicated cat person, so you can trust me on this."
Beyond green cheese: The photo book Alternative Moons, by Nadine Schlieperand Robert Pufleb, explores visual representations of the moon ... but contains a tasty mystery revealed by book’s end.
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Your Instagram photo of the day
A different pop-up restaurant. Friends from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, gather on a weekend before the pandemic at a pop-up restaurant with seating among the canyons in the Saudi town of Al Ula.
Subscriber exclusive: The changing face of Saudi women
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Today in a minute
Stuck in the ancestral homeland: Her forebears struggled hard to leave the Azores more than a century ago. By happenstance, photojournalist Genna Martin was there when travel halted because of the coronavirus. After two months in what was supposed to be the first stop in an around-the-world trip, Martin writes for Nat Geo about the surprising resonance of a past that she had never embraced. “The faces of the people we encounter are the faces of my cousins, all square jaws and dark eyebrows,” she writes. “The names on businesses, street signs, and gravestones—Borges, Vaz, Rocha, Pereira—are the names of my grandparents and their grandparents.”
‘Trapped’ in Nice: Same scenario, but on the Riviera. Downside: writer Christopher Elliott is stuck in an apartment in a strange town 23 hours a day with three kids. Upside: Language development. He adds: “The best part about being trapped in an apartment with adolescents is that you never run out of food. They’re constantly at the nearby Monoprix supermarket replenishing our supply of cereal, fruit, and fresh baguettes. Teenagers are like hummingbirds, eating twice their weight in a day. That’s only a slight exaggeration.”
The future in a wellspring of our past: An area that was key to the development of early humans is so remote that until recently, most people in the lower Omo River Valley didn’t know their land is a part of a nation called Ethiopia. Now, writes Stanley Stewart for Nat Geo, some residents are hoping that community-based cultural tourism could improve its future.
Tasty book tips: Thanks, readers, for responding to our query about favorite books that inspire food-focused trips. Start with Lavash, by Kate Leahy, John Lee, and Ara Zada—which reader Mary Aslanian said is “part cookbook with beautiful photography and recipes of traditional meals, part history book, and part a travelogue taking readers to Armenia—a country at the crossroads of East and West.” For a next course, Mary Brownell suggests Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling memoir of a woman’s journey from personal pain to transcendence through Italian food, Indian insight, and Balinese bliss. Round out your literary meal with Couchsurfing in Iran, by Stephan Orth, and its followup, Couchsurfing in Russia: Friendships and Misadventures Before Putin's Curtain. “These are looks into the lives of everyday people in pockets of countries we will never step foot,” says reader NK Miller.
The big takeaway
Should America’s national parks be privatized? Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful Lodge is operated by a company owned by Xanterra, one of the oldest and largest parks concessioners. Should more park amenities be privatized? The cash-strapped National Park Service is saddled with a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog; the recreation industry has said it can manage some park services better and cheaper. Environmental groups call for close scrutiny of privatization initiatives in order to maintain the original mission of conserving parks and their resources. And how, Adina Solomon examines for Nat Geo, does the COVID-19 pandemic affect the debate?
In a few words
Overheard at Nat Geo
Coronavirus special: The Virus Hunter
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The last glimpse
A better world: See this red-and-green macaw being trained for release in Argentina? This type of macaw hasn’t been seen in the region in a century. Its reintroduction—a part of an effort that involved buying millions of acres in Chile and Argentina and turning the vast expanse into conservation land—began with an enterprising American couple. Nat Geo asked Kris McDivitt Tompkins, who is her third decade of land acquisition and preservation in the region, when will her mission end? “It doesn’t,” Tompkins replied, “until I kick the bucket.”
Subscriber exclusive: How one couple built a massive legacy of conservation in South America