Book Review: Venice explored through great prose

Grand Canal Venice
Heading down the Grand Canal. Photo: Tom Meyers

By Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries—

Last week saw the publication of the sixth title in Oxygen Books’ innovative city-lit/city-pick series, with Venice joining a line-up that already includes Berlin, Dublin, London, Paris and Amsterdam. The idea is simple but inspirational. Oxygen’s editors gather together the very best prose to evoke the spirit of a European city.

Traveling in company

So in the latest volume, readers get the chance to arrive by sea in Venice with Jan Morris, take a gondola ride on a sultry summer day with Thomas Mann and be escorted over the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) with Casanova.

In Berlin we go to the cabaret with Joseph Roth and Christopher Isherwood (though not together), join Len Deighton and John le Carré on the trail of spies and even–just to prove perhaps that there is yet life in the traditional guidebook–join Karl Baedeker for some illuminating instruction on the efficiency of the Berlin sewage system.

Multiple perspectives

Oxygen Books have a knack of producing a heady mixture of old and new, interspersing excerpts from literary classics with snippets from the best of today’s bloggers. These are not just books to dip into between take off and the in-flight drinks, but really warrant a cover-to-cover read.

The joy is in securing a plurality of perspectives on the same topic. The extracts from Smollett and Camus in Oxygen’s book on Amsterdam told us more about the Dutch city than we could ever glean from a regular guidebook, or, for that matter, from a thousand tweets or a gigabyte of data from Google Goggles.

Ten bucks for great prose

These books are easy-to-carry pocket book size and, at about 250 pages each, easy to stash away in your hand baggage. The perfect travel read, we would suggest.

The days of the guidebook may be numbered, as travelers turn to online sources and mobile apps to get up-to-the-minute info on destinations. But good prose still has its place, and we think these anthologies of good writing from Oxygen Books will hit the mark for travelers wanting to catch a flavour of a city. Each book sells in the US for just about $10.

About the author

hiddeneurope
About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.
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