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Books: When Mountains Walked, In Patagonia

When Mountains Walked (Houghton Mifflin, $23), the debut novel from the acclaimed short-story writer Kate Wheeler, is an exploration of place that blurs the boundaries of sequential time and narrative voice. The settings Wheeler describes--the looming walls of Peru's Rosario Canyon; the fading light of a winter evening in Cambridge, Massachusetts; monsoon season in India--emerge as characters in their own right, informing the emotions and actions of the men and women in the story. As the action crosses national borders, the narrators wrestle with the nature of cultural identity.

Adventurer and author Bruce Chatwin changed the way people write about travel with In Patagonia, his first book, by focusing not just on the landscape but on those who inhabit it. The ever-elusive Chatwin was a study in contradictions: an openly homosexual man who remained married for 23 years; an incessant talker who wrote deceptively simple prose; a sharp observer of human folly who never became unsympathetic; a citizen of the world who could not escape his inherent Englishness. Meticulously researched over eight years, Nicholas Shakespeare's Bruce Chatwin: A Biography (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $35) brilliantly re-creates Chatwin's life.

What Ian Frazier admires most about Native Americans is their innate sense of personal freedom--a trait, he convincingly argues, that is still part of this nation's cultural heritage and classic Western mythology. Frazier's latest book, On the Rez (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25), tells of his decades-long friendship with Le War Lance, an Oglala Sioux from South Dakota, while examining the issues faced on America's reservations--land ownership, tribal rivalry, alcoholism, violence--and the notion of heroism.

Here are explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in their own words, presented for the first time in a collection of manageable size, The Essential Lewis and Clark (Ecco Press/HarperCollins, $24). Editor Landon Y. Jones has sifted through a massive amount of documentation--including all 1 million words of their notes--to present a powerful and concise version of the journals telling the story of the team's successful expedition across the continent to the Pacific Ocean (1804‚1806).

Okay, so we're biased. The New York Pop-Up Book (Universe Publishing/Rizzoli, $39.95) is a delightful exploration of our favorite town, with contributions from Tom Wolfe, Wendy Wasserstein, and Wynton Marsalis accompanied by foldout buildings, 3-D bridges, and tiny newspapers and pamphlets tucked into pockets. Alex Katz ruminates on the artist's life in SoHo, Alan Alda describes the scene backstage at a Broadway theater--and what emerges is an insider's view of the greatest city on earth.

T&L's managing editor, Mark Orwoll, has just published Sams Teach Yourself e-Travel Today (Macmillan, $18), an indispensable guide for planning and booking trips on-line, with advice on avoiding scams and finding bargains.

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