11 October 2016

Collecting guide books

Guide books of all kinds are generally seen as more or less disposable goods, since they contain a lot of ephemeral information, e.g. about moveable holidays, moveable events, one-time happenings, and about shops, nightclubs, eateries and accommodation that might be gone (or plunged from good to terrible) before the book was even published.

However, guide books can be valid for a lot longer if you look at them in a different light. Much of the information doesn‘t really expire as quickly as all that, and unless something wipes out a landmark or two, that particular information can stay valid for many years. Still, there is something sad about an outdated guidebook, bought for too much money (they are EXPENSIVE), briefly used with often a small portion of the book actually consulted, and now wanted by no-one - that is right up to the point where it becomes vintage, and then it is suddenly quaint, with its strangely coloured, grainy photographs of ancient cars and people wearing funny fashions and information from a different era. For example, I'm currently reading one about the Rhine Valley in Germany that harks back to when Germany was still divided into East and West, and Bonn was the capital of the Western part.

Then, of course, there are the really old guidebooks, the antiques of the 19th century and earlier, e.g. the Murray‘s Handbooks for Travellers and the Baedeker‘s guides so beloved of some of the characters of E.M. Forster‘s novel, A Room With a View.

They give an interesting look into the logistics of travel in years long past and show us what kinds of people travelled for fun, what they had to deal with and what were considered to be the attractions of the time. I think it might be a fun exercise to visit Florence with the Baedeker guide of 150 years ago and see how it has held up.


So why am I writing about guidebooks? Well, because they are books, and this is a book blog, and also because I collect them. Whenever I come across a second-hand guidebook – especially an Eyewitness guide or a similar photo-rich guide – to a place or country that interests me, I check the publication year, and if it‘s newer than 10 years old, I buy it. I also occasionally buy guides older than 40 years, especially if there are photos in them.

I jump at the chance to buy second-hand guide books of places I have visited or plan to visit one day, figuring that although they may be old, the important information, that about the old buildings, monuments, state museums and works of art, remains mostly valid, even if the information about hotels, restaurants, opening times, currency exchange, etc. has changed. This is because I prefer to read the guides at home while preparing to travel and then rely on locally available information when I get to where I am going. Also, if the books are old and cheaply bought, I don‘t need to hesitate to clip information, photos, maps and illustrations out of them to take with me and even paste into my journals. It saves considerable weight, I can tell you, if the guidebook is big (e.g. Lonely Planet's India guide), to simply cut it up and only bring the parts you need.

I also keep guides I have used on my travels, no matter how travel-worn they have become, because I write in them and mark places I have visited and occasionally write comments in the margins.

As of yet I have not actually cut up any of the guides I own, but that is just because I haven‘t yet visited (or revisited) any of the countries involved (except Portugal and that was a whirlwind weekend tour and I gave up on writing a journal for it). This may be about to change – I am planning a four-week holiday on the European mainland next spring and am planning to take with me both of my Europe Eyewitness books (one to use and one for clipping), and a guide for either Germany or France, depending on which country I decide to focus on (I might do both, maybe follow and criss-cross the border, but I'm in the early stages of planning and nothing has been decided). I‘m leaning towards Germany because I have been there before but there are many places I missed or want to revisit. On the other hand I have never been to France at all. Decisions, decisions.

It will especially be fun to be able to clip some of the maps of museums and parks found in the guide, to paste into the journal without regrets. And of course the information that matters, i.e. about interesting places, should still be valid, even if the book will be nearly a decade out of date when I set off.

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