This is a transcription of ‘Slow Travel Videos and Two New Books — 03 November 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a YA romantic adventure tinged with magic.
David: A charming graphic novel about the first cat in space.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I read the pitch for this novel, and I was in. You ready?
Melissa: ‘The Mummy’ meets ‘Death on the Nile’ in a historical fantasy set in Egypt and filled with adventure, an enemies-to-lovers romance, and a dangerous race.
Melissa: The book is ‘What the River Knows’ by Isabel Ibañez. Aside from that amazing description, you should also know that the book opens with a very sweet hand-drawn map of Egypt.
Melissa: Here’s the setup: Inez Olivera is 17 years old and lives in 19th-century Buenos Aires. She’s the only child of wealthy, adventurous parents who spend most of their time on expeditions on the other side of the world. When the story opens, she’s hiding in an old potter’s shed, waiting for a letter, and drawing in her sketch pad. Here’s a bit of the prologue:
‘I glanced at the sketch pad propped against my knees and made myself more comfortable in the ancient porcelain bathtub. The remnants of old magic shrouded my frame, but barely. The spell had been cast long ago, and too many hands had handled the tub for me to be completely hidden. That was the trouble with most magic-touched things. Any traces of the original spell cast were faint, fading slowly… but that didn’t stop my father from collecting as many magically tainted objects as he could. The manor was filled with worn shoes that grew flowers from the soles, and mirrors that sang as you walked by them, and chests that spewed bubbles whenever opened.’
Melissa: Sadly, when the letter arrives, she learns that her parents have died.
Melissa: Inez inherits their fortune and then, convinced their death isn’t the tragic accident it appears to be, she secretly sails to Cairo with her spunky attitude, her sketch pads, and a magical gold ring her father sent her for safekeeping. In Egypt, she checks into the iconic Shepheard’s Hotel, beloved by British tourists of the time for its stained glass windows, Persian carpets, and lush gardens. In the book, it’s where Inez’s parents were last seen. With her home base at the hotel, she gets into mischief as only a precocious young lady can. There’s old-world magic, unexpected romance, and the revelation of secrets.
Melissa: Inez is the narrator, and she’s an excellent companion for adventure. The book is ‘What the River Knows’ by Isabel Ibañez and it’s out now.
David: A friend recently pushed a book into my hands and told me it was wonderful. And she was right! The book is ‘The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza’ by Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris. It’s a graphic novel — a thick graphic novel, about 300 pages — aimed at children 8 to 12. But it’s got enough charm to win over anyone who needs a little whimsy.
David: It starts with a problem on the moon. On Earth, giant waves are appearing, moths have gotten unusually aggressive, and the werewolf population is having problems. It turns out that rats from another galaxy have landed on the moon and begun eating it at a staggering rate!
David: That’s when the government unleashes Project 47. A cat! But not just any cat! With a brain enhanced by microchips, and a suit upgraded with cybernetic biotechnology, this fantastic feline is a hero the likes of which the universe has never seen!
David: And the adventure launches from there. I loved reading it. It would be super fun to read aloud to someone.
David: The project launched when the two authors were sheltering in place in 2020. They started producing what they called ‘live cartoons.’ Those are drawings that they would move in and out of the camera to get an animated effect. They did all the voices and made up music and songs. They made a dozen of those videos, which became the book’s first draft.
David: The book is called ‘The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza’ by Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris. A second book in the series is also available. It’s called ‘The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom.’
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: If you’re not aware of them, I am bringing to your attention a new sub-genre of travel videos. As far as I can tell, they don’t have a name, but let’s just call them ‘slow travel videos.’
David: The experience is that you can go to YouTube and search on, say, “high res Tokyo walk.” That will get you dozens of walking videos of Tokyo. That’s when someone has a camera, turns it on, and walks through a neighborhood or two. They’re in high resolution, with stabilized images – frequently with the ambient sound of the streets they’re on. It’s a first person, human-level view of a city. You’ll see shops and the local residents, sometimes landmarks. And the videos are often hours long.
David: Does it only work for Tokyo? No. I tried a random assortment of cities from Los Angeles to Lagos, and they all offered many, many videos.
David: Does it only work for cities? No. I also tried mountain and forest and train. Train, in particular, got some lovely results.
David: You can also dial in particular weather. You can see rainy Mumbai or snowy Stockholm.
David: These videos are fun on their own – if you’re just curious about what those places are like. But you can also put them on during a gathering of some kind.
David: Last year, when we were unwrapping presents for Christmas, I put on carols and a two-hour video of a train going through the Swiss Alps. Which I thought was lovely. But, if you were, say, making Japanese food, you could also put on a video of Tokyo at night. Set the stage.
David: A few channels specialize in the ‘slow travel videos.’ We’ll point to them in our show notes.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on slow travel videos plus more on all the books we discussed today.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
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