One side effect of globalization is that more people are having difficulty answering the question, “Where are you from?” Essayist and novelist Pico Iyer, a British-born Californian of Indian ancestry who lives part-time in Japan, explores the psychic side of the New World Order in The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home (Knopf; $25). In seven meditations on rootlessness, each rooted in one location, Iyer probes the condition of wealthy members of the frequent-flyer class as well as their poor-immigrant cousins. With equal empathy, he inhabits Hong Kong’s high-rise corporate fast lane and the ultimate modern tent city (America’s new Ellis island), Los Angeles International Airport. At times, the ironies are a little too carefully parsed, but in a genre as solipsistic as travel writing usually is, Iyer’s global vision is a welcome antidote.
Everything you know about Bruce Chatwin’s travel writing won’t prepare you for his life – or for his biography. Where his books were clipped, compressed, cultured affairs rarely running much beyond 200 pages, Nicholas Shakespeare’s Bruce Chatwin (Doubleday/Nan Talese; $35) is a sprawling, 700-page tome. Chatwin led a life of serendipity, gliding effortlessly from one arcane and exclusive world to another: from the genteel combat of the art-and-antiques trade to the intrepid milieu of archaeology; from access to high society around the world to the gay demimonde. Jam-packed with names from all those realms, Shakespeare’s book is everything Chatwin’s were not: exhaustive and dishy.
Since 1991, urban explorer Bruce Kayton has led walking tours of the city’s radical past. Now his routes have gone paperback. In Radical Walking Tours of New York City (Seven Stories Press; $12.95), he casts his net rather wide: The intersection of Allen and Division Streets is included, for instance, though it was famous mainly for early-twentieth-century prostitution. But forgive the author his odd enthusiasms. It’s worth knowing that Marcus Garvey lived at 235 West 131st Street, that the term “breadlines” was coined to refer to the hungry who massed outside Fleischmann’s Model Vienna Bakery at 10th Street and Broadway, and that Marcel Duchamp was among those who, in 1917, climbed Washington Square Arch to declare “The Independent Republic of Greenwich Village.” It’s not the AIA Guide, but it belongs on the shelf right next to it.