book review: graphic usa

charleston cemeteries, south carolina

I’m headed out of town for the weekend, down to Isle of Palms & Charleston, SC, for the wedding of the lovely C&M, but before I go — while I go, actually; thanks to the scheduling feature on WordPress, when this posts, I am probably somewhere between Wilson and Florence on I-95 — I wanted to give y’all a quick review of a book: not about music, or photography, or even baseball, but about sports.

A few weeks ago, the gracious folks at Cicada Books UK sent me a copy of Graphic USA, their newest alternative travel publication, and let me tell you what: it made me want to travel. I love the idea of traveling, and I love photographing new places, and I love destination tourism (would I love the tri-cities area of Tennevirginia as much as I do, would I find it so beautiful, if I didn’t love Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion so much? Probably not, frankly, but I do, and I do), but travel requires money, which I rarely have, and also it requires you not to be an unbearably anxious traveler, which I am. I hate airports, and I worry a lot, and I hate to have no control over what or when or where I do things, all conditions that travel generally requires you to suspend.

This book makes me want to travel. Firstly, because it’s gorgeous; Cicada specializes in books about art and design, and even though neither of those is the subject here, they almost are, because the book itself is such a work of art. The typography is stunning, the layout is open and friendly, and it’s the sort of book where even the writing is inviting. It’s a book that makes you want to know the people writing, to see their cities and understand why they love them.

Because each chapter was written by an artist living in the city they’re writing about; it’s one of my easiest soft spots, though Cicada couldn’t have known that. A keen sense of place, a love for the space in which you live, knowing where you’re from and why you are where you are, I am terrifically smitten with all those ideas. There’s always a piece of it in my photography, when I shoot in Chapel Hill, or on the North Carolina coast or mountains, or I try to put it there, anyway: I chose this place, and I love that I live here. (For example, I took this photo in the Cowboy’s front yard at 9 am on a clear, cool, sunny Sunday. It could be anywhere, but it’s the Thrill, and I know that, and it’s important.)

That Cicada employs artists and writers actually living and loving in the cities their book covers, that’s what makes it special. It’s lovely to look at and that’s a huge part of its appeal, but it’s oversized for a travel guide, the kind of book that you take with you for its content but you leave in your hotel room when you go it. The real appeal is the writing, the thoughtful care that the writers took with their cities — they all want you to love their cities as much as they do.

I won’t get to use much of the Charleston section this weekend, because I have wonderful obligations to good friends sealing their lives together, but I know it’s there. I know that I could come back to it and walk the city with the eyes of someone else, a stranger (because I certainly have enough friends who know and love Charleston as it is) who loves the place.

That’s what makes me want to travel, and that’s why this book is so special.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s beautiful, but it’s the love in it that makes it extraordinary.

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