Nature & Science · Non-fiction

Scandinavian Creatures and Remote Islands: Coffee Table Reads

coffee table reads

A good excuse to splurge on gorgeous books is displaying them on the coffee-table for guests. It’s not a selfish buy when you’re sharing the love. Being an introvert if there ever was one, I maintain full appreciation for the art of fueling conversation indirectly. Awkward silences are nipped in the bud when your guest is flipping through adorable pictures and garnering two-minute facts from your casual display.


Opening The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts (Amazon) for the umpteenth time to re-read mouth-watering tidbits, I stare– mesmerized–at the creatures, as if they might start talking if I look hard enough. I coo reading that sea otters hold hands; and as I learn that a certain turtle pees through its mouth I giggle and gawk. Even the title’s vocable “compendium” sets my tongue a-tingle. Swedish illustrator Maja Säfström funnels her personal style of scandinavian, minimalist art to animate creatures that gush with adorable personality. This selection of facts endlessly entertain, and Maja’s illustrations speak for themselves:  See for yourself here.

animal illustrations
Illustrations by Maja Säfström
atlas pages
Raoul Island illustration Judith Schalansky

In her introduction Judith Schalansky declares, “Give me an atlas…There is no more poetic book in the world.” Her remarkable work translated from the German–Atlas of Remote Islands (Amazon)–could convince anyone this is so. Roughly 50 islands spotlight in this obsessively researched work that reads in mysterious, exaggerated profiles like a dream-sequence. Isolated, these realms are scarcely reachable, meaning you probably will never set foot on a single one. Yet, with Schalansky’s atmospheric descriptions and pain-staking delineations of inhabitant count, latitude/longitude, timeline, land mass, and atlas-style images fully labelled, you leave as a true explorer who has crossed uncharted bounds. Each island comes with a one page long story, for easy digestion. Many are haunting–as in the wide-sweeping newborn deaths on St. Kilda–showing the reality that “Paradise is an island. So is hell.” Others reflect that magical, melancholy atmosphere of isolation, as with the endless ice of uninhabited Loneliness. You may wonder if you’ve gone insane, believing absurdities about a whole race of color-blind natives, uncouth burial rituals, strange phenomenon of the skies, and even stranger animals. All I can tell you is Schalansky’s own confession, “I have not invented anything…[I have] appropriated [the texts] as sailors appropriate the lands they discover.”


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