Jonathan Crowe

I’m a blogger and writer from Shawville, Quebec. I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis. More about me.

My Correct Views on Everything
↳ Travel

Atlas of Cursed Places

Book cover: Atlas of Cursed Places The first thing to keep in mind about Olivier Le Carrer’s Atlas of Cursed Places is that it’s not an atlas. Rather, it’s a collection of brief essays about a series of unique places around the world. In that I suspect it’s much like Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands or Aude de Tocqueville’s Atlas of Lost Cities (English translation forthcoming next year). All of these books shared a publisher in France; all of them appear to have been conceived under the influence of Calvino.

The Atlas of Cursed Places’s essays are about places in the world that are, for one reason or another, particularly horrible, by dint of their history or geography. There are navigational hazards and environmental disasters, and sites of old horrors that were entirely human-made. Ghost towns, war zones, slums and mausoleums. Animal infestations. Each are engrossing, but the essays barely get started on their subjects: turn the page expecting more and you find yourself already on the next one. Each essay is an act of cruelty (very meta given the subject matter), whetting readers’ appetites but denying us the feast.

In the end this is an exercise in curation: the choices are fascinating, but the essays are affective rather than substantive. In that sense this book is an even lighter read than Alastair Bonnet’s Unruly Places (which seems to have much less Calvino in its book DNA).

(While not an atlas proper, this book does have a lot of maps illustrating each essay. But their effect is disorienting: each cursed place is indicated by a star on an old and out-of-date map, usually a plate from a century-old atlas.)

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Bleak Landscapes

The Atlantic’s In Focus photography feature recently looked at two landscapes that seem not just bleak, but denuded: small town North Dakota and the Faroe Islands. It’s an aesthetic I appreciate.

A Vacation Wish List

At some point, I’d like to visit the Algonquin Radio Observatory (which accommodates overnight guests). I’m not normally one for cruises, but there are week-long cruises to the �les-de-la-Madeleine from Montreal that sound interesting. More importantly, they’re both doable.

The World’s Smallest Bookstore

World's Smallest Bookstore

On our way back from Orillia yesterday (more on which anon), Jennifer and I stopped at a place that calls itself the World’s Smallest Bookstore (or Bookshop: the signs don’t always agree). It’s a few kilometres east of Kinmount, Ontario on Regional Road 503 (here’s how it looks from the road). Operated by Gord and June Daniels, the tiny book store (there’s a warehouse further back if you want more) is open 24 hours a day and operates on the honour system: all books are three dollars, make a note of what you’ve bought and drop your money in the slot. The selection is fairly mainstream, but I found a couple of relatively recent Verne translations that I’ll be able to put to good use.

Leisure Projects had an item on this little store in 2010. There are other contenders for the title of world’s smallest bookstore, such as this one in Maine and this one in British Columbia, but I’m not going to mediate these claims. The world is big enough for many smallest bookstores.

The James Bay Road

The James Bay Road (Route de la Baie-James) is a paved 620-km highway running north from Matagami to Radisson, Quebec, and the James Bay Road Website catalogues practically every kilometre of it, along with other, more interesting (read: calamitous) roads radiating out from it: the Trans-Taiga Road (Route Transta�ga) and the North Road (Route du Nord). Which makes northern Quebec that much more visible, if not accessible.