Welcome to World Bookcase

Greetings, dear reader. You’ve found your way to World Bookcase, a monthly newsletter that will be devoted to all things of a wayfinding nature: travel, geography, world cultures, cuisine, film, topics as various as the world itself.

We live on a single planet, Earth, a fact of which we are increasingly aware as that planet’s systems become ever more displeased by our behavior. But on that planet are many different worlds: Life in Burkina Faso is different in many respects from life in Japan, and even in neighboring Mali. The food of France is different from the food of Germany, even though they’re right next door to each other. Khmers and Thais, Indians and Pakistanis, Bororo and Jivaro: each is different from the other, sometimes to the point of fighting over what keeps them separate while overlooking what makes them similar. For, even though there is but one human race, our histories diverge at every turn to give us the stamps of our place, time, and heritage.*

World Bookcase will explore those differences through essays, stories, videos, songs, and other avenues. For each topic—the Great Wall of China, early navigation across the Pacific Ocean, the peopling of Europe, and so forth—I’ll assemble a reading list that, I hope, will invite deep dives into places and peoples, opening up those different worlds for understanding. Each monthly installment of World Bookcase will close with a lagniappe: a little something extra, not necessarily connected in any obvious way to the main topic of the piece. (Though of course, as the ecologists will tell you, everything is connected to everything else.) Paid subscribers will receive an additional newsletter each month.

I mean for World Bookcase to be an entertaining, inspiring virtual travelogue into places that few of us have visited but that we all ought to know a little more about. My spiritual traveling companions will be the explorers of history, but also more recent wanderers, including the great Anthony Bourdain, who taught us not to fear the unknown, and the footloose Bruce Chatwin. We’ll hear from Gertrude Bell, Isabella Bird, Owen Lattimore, John Francis, and many other writers, as well as scholars, soldiers, scientists, and even a few spies.

It may seem an odd time to inaugurate such a publication, here at the tail end of 2020, with COVID–19 keeping us close to home and world leaders whipping up crises meant to keep people apart, each, to summon up W. H. Auden, sequestered in their hatred for one another. To the contrary, I think, such times are just right for a reminder that beyond our walls and our national boundaries there is an infinity of things, places, and ideas to explore and learn. One day we’ll be able to range freely again, and when that time comes, I hope we’ll all be better prepared for it by the things I’ll be writing about here.

I look forward to adventures to come, and I thank you for your companionship. Look for the first issue in mid-January. Onward!

*See Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches and Other Stories for some of the ways in which we insist on our differences.