Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Snow and Books, 15

Yes, it's another snarky guidebook review. It had better stop snowing soon, I'm running out of guidebooks.

But if the weather is the bad news, the good news is that Fodor's New England, while reserving a scant 63 pages for Connecticut (Massachusetts: 218; Maine: 135) does, at least, understand what the Constitution State has to offer. That's a nice change from this guide, and this one, and this one.

I knew that Fodor's was not going to ruin my day as early as page 10, where Connecticut is summed up like this: "The densely populated southwest region contrasts with the sparsely populated northeastern Quiet Corner, known for antiquing. Small shoreline villages line the southeastern coast and are near a pair of casinos. The Connecticut River Valley and Litchfield Hills have grand old inns, rolling farmlands, and state parks." In the past I would have protested the lack of cities in this description, but at this point my expectations are so low that I was thrilled just to see a few accurate sentences.

Today I Learned: Lake Compounce, in Bristol, was the first amusement park in the nation, and Foxwoods is currently the largest resort casino in North America. Should I have known these little facts? Yes. But I didn't, until now.

Amusements: "Boston motorists are notorious for driving aggressively." (That's a classy way of putting it.)

Listings: The first thing this guide does right is not trying to be a history or sociology textbook. There's a very brief section on New England's economy, politics, and such, but after that it's all travel.

The second thing this book does relatively well is to understand what visitors to New England enjoy. "Quintessential New England" is defined as coastline, food, artisans, and fall foliage, which this guide takes very seriously indeed. Connecticut does get short shrift in the picks for top attractions, experiences, outdoor activities, and historic places. But because it's clear that this is a "curated" selection by Fodor's, not an attempt at an all-encompassing list, makes this feel less obnoxious. 

And we do feature twice in the collection of week-long itineraries, with a New Haven to Boston culinary tour and another that combines Connecticut wineries and Rhode Island mansions.

In the 63-page Connecticut section itself, this guide checks most of my boxes. Does it know what the Quiet Corner is? Yes: "The cultural capital of the Quiet Corner is Putnam...smaller jewels are Pomfret and Woodstock." Does it include scenic drives? Yes: Route 169 and the villages of Litchfield County are noted. Does it mention state parks beyond Hammonasset? Yes, sort of: several others are listed, though not my favorites (or those I'd send tourists to see.) Does it like Hartford? Yes: "The city is a destination on the verge of discovery." Are there any hilarious descriptions of the Gold Coast? Yes. And a warning: "Bring your platinum card."

BUT - and this is a big, giant, got-fat-eating-cookies-whilst-snowed-in-for-weeks BUT - New London is completely omitted. This is one of my personal Connecticut travel guide travesties. It's not just because I love the place; a lack of New London in a Connecticut guide indicates, to me, an inability to appreciate omnipresent history (as opposed to that confined to a museum), as well as a blind spot about up-and-coming destinations and small (and less wealthy) cities. Were it not for that, I would probably look to this book for inspiration the next time I go to northern New England.

Quote: "You can travel from just about any point in Connecticut to any other in less than two hours, yet the land you traverse - fewer than 60 miles top to bottom and 100 miles across - is as varied as a drive across the country."

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