Publishers keep churning them out: sumptuous art books that celebrate the scenic wonders of our part of the world. We have Alison Shaw’s iconic photos of lighthouses and dahlias in coffee cans, Betsy Corsiglia and Mary Jean Miner’s ode to Campground cottages and gardens, and Peter Simon’s series of Vineyard photos, vintage and new, accompanied by essays from writers impossible to ignore. Simon managed to include the likes of Richard North Patterson and Larry David, who later converted his contribution into a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode about being tapped to write for free.
We all have a few of these big books centered on our scenery — some of us collect every single one of them — gracing our tables or given pride of place on book shelves. Now a new one has been added to the mix, which on the surface sounds generic and touristy — “Cape Cod and the Islands: Where Beauty and History Meet” by Kathryn Kleekamp (Schiffer Publishing, $34.95) — and yet it’s a genuine treasure.
Normally only well-heeled travel publishers such as Globe Pequot or Lonely Planet would bite off the more-than-you-can-chew material of a sprawling peninsula and two unique islands, lining up all the hotels, restaurants, shopping, and other choice tidbits, along with brief bios for each town. The result is so encyclopedic that we only approach the text on a town-by-town basis: “Hey, honey, you want to take that fast ferry thing to Hyannis? It says here that they’ve got a cool harbor, and we can stay in this motel with an indoor pool.”
Artist and writer Kathryn Kleekamp of Sandwich has put together a collection of her own oil-on-canvas paintings, some impressionistic, some more representational, a few a little Grandma-Moses-y, but all truly beautiful. To this she has added a choice mixture of photos, some archival, some full-Technicolor recent, plus drawings culled from libraries and other regional archives. Ms. Kleekamp has done her due diligence in researching the culture, art, and key historical tidbits of all the Cape and Island towns; not an easy chore, but this is an art and travel book you’ll probably sit down and read until you’re finished.
You’re already thinking this book must weigh as much as a cinder block — but wait: There are recipes too. Ms. Kleekamp wants us to not only imbibe a full and readable account of each town, but she also wants us to taste the towns, from Baked Indian Pudding to Oyster Stew (butter, celery, 24 oysters, hot milk, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, paprika).
And it’s not cinder block heavy; it’s 192 pages of good-quality paper, but you can read this on your porch hammock and not have to worry about carpal tunnel syndrome colonizing your wrists.
Visitors to the Island, from hardcore summer people to elderly couples day-tripping off a cruise ship, will purchase this attractive and informative souvenir. Again, the weight is ideal for slipping into a bag with wheels. More vitally to those of us lucky enough to dwell more or less most of the time on the Cape or Islands, this is a handy go-to guide for lighthearted jaunts within our local confines.
But here’s the deal with Ms. Kleekamp’s fine, meticulous, and engaging book: Let’s say you step out of your comfort zone and plan to visit Truro for an overnight. You’ll learn that the original Pilgrims considered basing their headquarters there, but they took the cache of native corn seeds and booked it to Plymouth to cultivate their farm plots instead. The original Truro, called Dangerfield, was incorporated in 1709, a “nod to hazardous surrounding waters.” It must have occurred to the Founding Fathers that the name Dangerfield might discourage migration to the town, so they changed the moniker to Truro after an English village in Cornwall. Truro flourished with shipbuilding, fishing, and saltworks, plus they discovered the sandy soil was perfect for crops of asparagus and turnips — enough to ship to Boston, and to make fortunes.
And by all means you’ll want to read up about our own beloved towns. We all know we can’t get enough of this stuff; we’re narcissistically attached to our Island, where, true enough, “Beauty and History Meet.”
Maybe you won’t want to visit Truro after all.