Full disclosure: I’m currently in the process of revising a travel guide (Globe Pequot’s Insiders’ Guide to the Twin Cities) that might be considered a competitor to the guide (Arts America) that I’m reviewing. Fuller disclosure: the process of revising a travel guide has often caused me to wonder whether the book-length travel guide, as a form, is outdated. Has the increasingly accessible Web rendered obsolete hard-copy books that list addresses, phone numbers, and brief descriptions?
Not entirely. It’s still nice to have something with static text and maps that you can refer to without turning on or scrolling to or linking from or launching. The best book-form travel guides will remain useful for some time. Whether the Insiders’ Guide is one of them, you will have to decide for yourself; I can tell you with some confidence, though, that Arts America (Huntington Press) is not.
The goal of Arts America is to provide a nationwide guide to finding and gaining affordable access to “the best art museums, theater, classical music, opera, jazz, dance, film, and summer festivals in America.” In practice, that means that the book includes variably comprehensive information on “the 20 most significant U.S. cities” (our metro area counting as one entry among them), with information on a few dozen more available on the book’s Web site.
The fact that the Web site contains information only on the B-cities and not on the “most significant” cities (take that, St. Louis!)—for information on the top 20, you need to buy the book—is symptomatic of the ill-conceived nature of the whole project. The intention is admirable, and some of the general tips in the book’s introduction are valuable, but beyond that it’s not clear why anyone would need to own a copy of Arts America. The listings are decent—there are no glaring omissions in the Twin Cities’ section, though its writers seem to be under the impression that the Guthrie and the Walker are still adjacent—but for every city they’re far less comprehensive than you’d find in a dedicated travel guide for that city. The special information on deals and discounts at particular venues is nothing beyond, and of course less current than, what you’d find on any organization’s Web site.
Who is this guide for? Not for residents of any of the 20 cities—why spend $25 on a national guide when you could get a much more comprehensive guide to your own city for half that price? Possibly for people who travel often to different cities around the country, though any chamber-of-commerce Web site could provide you with just about the same information for free. Arts America‘s value as a book rather than a Web site is compromised by its bulk—you’re not going to carry 534 pages about the arts in America around Pittsburgh with you.
As I’ve noted, though, I’m not the ideal reviewer for this book. By all means, if you find someone who might appreciate this book, let them know—and let me know, too.