Friday, August 21, 2009

Clean Breaks is one to miss

I love books. It's probably why I work as an editor. As a result, I'm trying to imagine the conversation that led the Rough Guides editors to commission Clean Breaks: 500 new ways to see the world.

My guess is that they wanted to fill a gap in their list, knew that All Things Green are selling, and knew a couple good travel writers who could lend their names to the project.

The result is a mammoth, 392-page book. A book with a lot of problems.

1. Five hundred locations in about 350 editorial pages (there's also an index and some pages of green travel tips) means less than a page per location. While visiting mountain gorillas in Rwanda merits a spread, most items get only the most superficial treatment. Really, if I'm thinking of tracking wild dogs in South Africa, five column inches ain't enough to go on.

2. It's painfully Eurocentric. Almost a third of the book is devoted to Europe. That's not surprising, as the lead authors are Guardian correspondent Richard Hammond and former Ecologist editor Jeremy Smith. North America merits a whopping 25 pages, with nothing whatsoever in the Arctic.

3. The vast majority of the locations will require one to fly in. Some, like Skoki Lodge, are wonderful places that are only accessibly by hiking or cross-country skiing...after flying to Calgary and driving a couple hours up into the mountains.

4. Many entries have questionable "green" value. St. Lawrence Market in Toronto is neat, and a great place to get good cheese. But what makes it green? It's not exactly a local farmers' market (well, arguably the North market is on Saturdays). Interestingly, most of the produce at Toronto farmers' markets wouldn't fit into a 100-mile diet. But that's not the authors' fault.

5. The book is massive. And with its entries being so short, really little more than a blurb and contact info, one wonders why it's a book at all. With high linkability, it would make a great website. Given that Hammond founded the Green Traveller webguide, one expects the info is already neatly organized online, though perhpas without so many of the pretty stock photos.

6. Printed in China. Yep, nearly 400 oversized pages, all from China. The book does state that it's printed on FSC-certified paper, but I'm leery of such claims when the press is in China. The country has a dismal environmental record, and a lot of the wood processed there is illegally poached. There's a good story in the Globe and Mail. FSC-certified wood may all be harvested on the up-and-up, but I'd feel more comfortable if it weren't coming from an area known for corruption and processing illegally harvested timber. Also, did I mention that it's a big book?

I really hate to pan a book on this blog. But this one is a sign that publishers are pushing too hard to get on the "green" bandwagon.

In its defence, there are a lot of interesting travel ideas. Some are novel, some really aren't "new ways to see the world." And I don't want environmental concerns to stop people from traveling the world, seeing new places and exposing themselves to new ideas. That's vitally important. But the book kind of misses the point that the big environmental concern isn't what you do when you get to your destination, but how you get there. A destination that requires a long-haul flight, followed by a car ride, seaplane ride and outboard motorboat trip isn't really so green, is it?

Save your $35 and look up interesting green holiday ideas online instead.

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