Baobab Trees, The Shire, Narwhals, Best Bookmarks, Coraline Musical & More: Endnotes 07 June

Baobab Trees, The Shire, Narwhals, Best Bookmarks, Coraline Musical & More: Endnotes 07 June

Friday, 7 June, 2024

Every Friday, we celebrate the weekend — and all the reading and relaxing and daydreaming time ahead — with Melissa's favorite book- and travel-related links of the week. Why work when you can read fun stuff?!

This post is part of our Endnotes series.


Those otherworldly trees above are Grandidier’s Baobabs — and they’re standing sentry along the Avenue of the Baobabs (or L’allée des Baobabs) in western Madagascar. I think we can agree that all trees are miraculous and majestic, but baobabs are particularly iconic. They can live to be thousands of years old, and they’re not really trees at all. They’re succulents, which means they absorb and store water in their massive trunks to survive the arid season when everything else dries up. No wonder they’re also known as The Tree of Life. There are various legends built around these iconic trees, but the truth may be even more entertaining than fiction. Baobabs are pollinated by lemurs (!), and the tree’s buds open up into big, white, fluffy pom-poms at dusk. The baobab fruit looks a little bit like an oversized avocado and has a sweet, tangy flavor with hints of yogurt, lemon, pear, and vanilla; get the scoop on that here. And treat yourself to this excellent video about baobabs.

  • Not too proud to admit that I was well into adulthood when I learned that the narwhal, a.k.a., the unicorn of the sea, is a real animal. An independent scientist has taken more than 20 trips to the Arctic (!) to unravel the mysteries of these magical creatures. ‘The story was that this gigantic tusk was just for social hierarchy, like a lion’s mane or a peacock tail. The more I read, the less sense this made. Just to get the best girl of the lot? It doesn’t seem plausible to me. This animal has gone through an enormous sacrifice to create this thing. I thought, this animal deserves a better story.’ (Psst… there’s a narwhal tusk in Prague’s Strahov Monastery Library — and you can take a virtual trip to the land of the narwhals with our podcast episode Arctic: Otherworldly Beauty That Might Kill You.)

  • Where are my Room with a View fans? Florence, Italy, has just been named the world’s most walkable city.

  • Only tangentially related: Remember when (I Love) Lucy went to Italy and stomped grapes with her feet then got into a hair-pulling fight with an Italian woman in the giant barrel?

  • It’s been 100 years since Franz Kafka’s death, and all manner of events will celebrate the author throughout 2024. The Guardian examines the enduring legacy of the phrase kafkaesque in pop culture. (This includes a surprisingly dramatic story.)

  • Do you like word nerdery? Then you will enjoy this investigation of names for (and treatment of) fandom through the ages. ‘Lisztians and Wagnerians, the fans of the composers Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner respectively, are clearly the most legible to modern audiences… ‘Longhairs’ were often also Liszt fans: Liszt was an object of fandom so beloved that he provoked the ‘Lisztomania’of the 1840s, which had people fainting at his concerts and collecting his trash as keepsakes. Liszt’s male fans would carefully coif their long hair, in contrast with the relatively unkempt Wagnerians.’

  • How charming is this drawing by artist Frédéric Forest?

simple line drawing of a person holding and reading a book
Saturday Reading by Frédéric Forest.


New Strong Sense of Place Episode — New York City: NO! SLEEP! TILL BROOKLYN!

a bridge glimpsed between two red brick buildings
Brooklyn, New York, NY. Photo courtesy of Miltiadis Fragkidis/Unsplash.

Is New York City the world capital of… everything? It’s sure putting up a good effort. We could talk about how the New York Stock Exchange started under a tree (!) on Wall Street and how NYC is now the financial capital of the world. Billionaires, millionaires, blah blah blah.

Let’s talk about what really matters.

Like… the best pizza and bagels in the world, the Met and the New York Public Library, art deco skyscrapers and bodega cats, Carnegie Hall, Broadway, Rockefeller Center, and that one place on the corner in Brooklyn with the best Polish pastries.

There’s the immediately identifiable New York accent and the 800 or so languages spoken by New Yorkers from all around the world. The City That Never Sleeps is the ultimate melting pot; we’re all better for it.

In this episode, we grab an imaginary coffee to go in a ‘We Are Happy to Serve You’ cup and explore the ultimate bookish day in New York City. In Two Truths and a Lie, we meet the musicians of the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and visit a Brooklyn store where you can buy a can of chutzpah. Then we recommend six great books that took us to New York City on the page, including two graphic novels, a love letter to ’90s Manhattan, a frothy family saga, historical fiction with a challenging heroine, and a collection of short stories from a master of fiction. [transcript]

Visit our show notes for photos, links to fascinating stuff, videos, author info, and more.


Come and meet those dancing feet.

Top image courtesy of Noah Grossenbacher/Unsplash.

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Every Friday, we share our favorite book- and travel-related links. This week, we've got Hilary Mantel tshirts, Jane Eyre: The Musical, books in translation, tips for learning languages, a Holbein exhibit, and more.
Every Friday, we share our favorite book- and travel-related links. This week, we've got an alphabet inspired by architecture, a book titles quiz, street art from Nespoon, charming general stores, Prague, and more.
Every Friday, we share our favorite book- and travel-related links. This week, we've got vintage Gothic book covers, the best beaches around the world, reading's carbon footprint, Amor Towles' home library, and more.

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