I have no idea how Judith Schalansky’s Atlas was not on my atlas until earlier this month when BLCKDGRD sent me a copy. (For reading the whale book again, I think?)
Anyway, god love him forever.
It’s a beautiful big little small expansive book, as Sadie Stein attests in The Paris Review:
There’s a book I’ve returned to again and again, ever since its clementine-orange cover first caught my eye at a museum bookstore: A Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky, translated from the German by Christine Lo.
The subtitle is Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will, but don’t worry: this book isn’t precious. At least, not too precious—despite the somewhat whimsical conceit, the author approaches her idiosyncratic task with seriousness. The book looks serious, until you read that quirky subtitle: it looks like a pocket atlas. But then you open it. And each remote island’s entry—St. Kilda in the Atlantic, the Carolines of Micronesia, the American Pagan—is a prose poem of sorts. Facts sit side-by-side with a kind of highly personal fiction; we are given latitudes and detailed maps, but also lore and speculation. Of the antipodes the author writes, “cattle that are brought here die quickly and quietly in the dun-colored steppes of grass. And the thunderous echo of waves breaking against the hollows of the jagged coastline never ceases.”
Schalansky’s Atlas is not-exactly history, not-exactly prose-poetry—it seems to evoke its own genre out of preexisting modes.
This guy on Amazon was dissatisfied though:
The line maps are beautiful, but I’m no sailor.
(When the little book showed up, my darling wife insisted we give it to our charmed friend who’s spent the past few years sailing around the globe on his goddamn charmed catamaran, winding up in New Zealand around the time of the Covid thing. I told her this book was mine. But in the big-spirited spiritedness of Mr. BLCKDGRD, I’ll send him his own copy.)