A very large order from Amazon has come in (it's as if Christmas came very, very early.....or a bit late!) There are far too many books for me to lug home tonight in my gym bag, so I'll split them up and take four home tonight (plus one new DVD) and three books tomorrow.
I have two new guidebooks in the stacks. One is a Blue Guide for Venice with a gorgeous cover illustration. It's essential because at this point, I have only one guide for Venice and the Veneto, which I put to good use on my last trip to Venice three years ago. That's an Eyewitness Guide, a line of travel guides that I quite like for their great illustrations, such as the use of cross-sections to better show the reader how churches or art galleries are laid out; where to find a certain object of art that the reader might be looking for; that kind of thing. Good maps, as well.
However, I find that there is very little background or written detail in the Eyewitness Guides, which is unfortunate. I guess you can't have everything, or you would need a wheelbarrow to carry the guidebook that has it all! Still, I must say that I particularly love the Eyewitness guides for my own viewing pleasure at home, before or after a trip. For instance, the Eyewitness Guide to the Veneto that I now have, has such wonderful illustrations of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua that I almost feel as if I've seen it!
This is where the Blue Guide fits in to my collection. I think these are excellent books because they are written with great detail, although there is not much space left for illustration. Maybe a few photos, and always some interesting pen-and-ink illustrations of a facade, and the occasional floor plan. That means these books are much more dense and quite heavy! I only have a couple of Blue Guides so far, but I think I'll be relying increasingly on these.
The second new guide book that just arrived is a Cadogan guide to Bologna and Emilia Romagna. I have never before bought a Cadogan guide book, and I'm not sure if I'm going to be really pleased with this one.It's not that heavy, because the paper is kind of light and flimsy, and there aren't many illustrations. Yet there isn't a lot of detail, either. In short, I don't know if it's going to be all that useful! I ordered it, in part to try a new line of books, but also because it seems very hard to find guidebooks for Bologna on Amazon.ca. For instance, there was available only one used Blue Guide to the E-R region, and it was several years old. Eyewitness doesn't seem to have one at all (Bologna and region must be larded into some sort of northern Italy guide) and neither Fodor's nor Frommer's had one listed for sale either. I don't find these latter two brands to be that helpful any more. They seem to be very heavy on recommendations for restaurants, hotels and shopping outlets. And for that kind of thing, I would prefer to rely on more up-to-date recommendations from the Internet, and such sites as Slow Travel (obviously!!) Chow Hound, Trip Advisor, etc.
Actually, it's interesting to think about how the guide book industry is responding to the rise of the Internet -- a challenge that, of course, faces every type of printed material. I mean, recommendations for food and lodging can go out of date fairly quickly; opening hours can change after the guide's publication; that type of thing. To me, the obvious response for guide book companies is, of course, to try to run a very good Internet site and provide a fair amount of free content. Frommers and Fodor's do a bit of that; Rick Steeves doesn't seem to at all. That's their loss; I imagine a lot of people would research information on the Internet, grow to like and brand and perhaps for a small monthly fee, subscribe to these sites to obtain extra information. Or buy their books, especially if these were improved.
I think that to improve the guide books, and improve their rates of survival, these publishers would want to throw out the old formats and instead provide greater content, facts and background that won't go out of date as easily as which restaurant is hot or not. So instead of wasting much time or space on dated recommendations, focus instead on the information that's a bit tougher to find -- for example, why exactly a visitor to Rome might want to make the trip across the Tiber to see the Villa Farnesina. There is some wonderful art there, but when I find the villa mentioned in guide books, it gets perhaps a couple of paragraphs. Very little value added there at all.
BTW, my wit-less colleague, who I wrote about earlier this week, buys travel guidebooks and then snaps the spine, to pull out the chapters he wants to take on a trip. I could never treat a book like a disposable item and don't respect him for that