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Winter break passed too quickly and the large stacks of books I had intended to read mostly remain unread. While traveling, however, I did manage to tear through dozens of magazines and several notable books (some of the first I’ve read entirely on my kindle).

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Citrus County
 by John Brandon (McSweeney’s: 2010, 224 pp.)

Brandon’s second novel, Citrus County couldn’t be set in any other location. His Citrus County is a place “fit only for ambush” in which there exist “no basements, no second stories.” It is a landscape “where nothing would roll away. Everything stayed right where it was and festered.” In this novel, place is paramount, yet unhinged. The school is no place of learning, the home is no nest of security, the swamp is not very scary and the underground bunker we want to avoid is somehow where we always knew we’d end up.  The interconnected lives of a disenchanted and homicidal high school geography teacher and two of his students, Shelby and Toby, display a level of placelessness that is surprising considering the vividness of the places they inhabit. Yet Brandon uses all of this to his advantage, willingly displacing the reader alongside his characters, a distance we are ultimately grateful he provides.

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller (Mariner Books: 2011, 352 pp.)

Last year my father backpacked alone across the state of Missouri. The year before that he hiked the width of Illinois. I read Miller’s book on the Appalachian Trail, partly in support of Dad’s next venture: a 6 month trek of more than 2,000 miles, from Georgia to Maine. I chose Miller’s book for its journalistic style, rather than Bill Bryson’s perhaps more consciously literary account of hiking the AT: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering American on the Appalachian Trail. I wanted to know about hikers’ perceptions of the AT as a place. Is it possible that a trail of such length, crossing through hundreds of ecosystems, a wide variety of terrain and more than a dozen states, is something human geographer Yi-Fu Tuan might deem a “knowable place”? Miller’s account seems to suggest that it is. The hikers in AWOL on the Appalachian Trail follow a well-worn path marked by thousands of identical white flags, claim “trail names” and, sometimes, new identities along the way, and ultimately do obtain intimate knowledge of the place-ness of the AT. Miller’s book has left me anxiously awaiting my father’s own account of the same trek.

Maps and Monsters in Medieval England by Asa Mittman (Routledge: 2006, 292 pp.)

I recently returned to Asa Mittman‘s wonderful study of all things cartographical and monstrous…the one text from my reading wish list that I actually was able to read over break. Reading Maps and Monsters so recently after attending Asa’s lecture on monsters and monstrosity at Sonoma State University, allowed me to eerily hear his voice delivering his prose. Creepy but awesome. Asa’s study, at its best, places the monstrous along the edges of the world, oddly enough, the very same place Anglo-Saxons often mapped themselves. His work is more than influential to my own, particularly my upcoming study of the human places and monstrous spaces found within the Beowulf manuscript’s Letter of Alexander the Great to Aristotle. If you have interests that are medieval, monstrous, cartographical, geographical or spatial, then Asa’s monograph is a must.