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Freya Stark's Travels

Author and explorer Dame Freya Stark was one of the most intrepid adventurers of all time. (T. E. Lawrence, no slouch in the travel department himself, called her "gallant" and "remarkable.") In 1927, she sailed to Lebanon to learn Arabic and went on to trace the ancient frankincense trading routes. Her quest took her to the remotest regions of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, which led to her work with Allied intelligence during World War II. In Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark (Random House, $27.95), Jane Fletcher Geniesse brings to life this intense, original personality and her often dangerous exploits.

Pedestrian images of dismal architecture are not an American invention, as the book Boring Postcards ($24.95) proves. Phaidon has just released Martin Parr's take on the drabber aspects of English life: highway rest stops, airport terminals, convalescent homes, trailer camps. It took Parr more than 20 years to collect these gems, and they are presented here without any ironic editorializing or sly captions. You'll wish you could read what's written on the flip side; instead, you,ll have to confine yourself to imagining what went on at the likes of Littleport's Transport & General Union Recuperation Centre.

Jonathan Raban, author ofOld Glory and Bad Land, set out alone to cruise Alaska's Inside Passage. Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings (Pantheon, $26.50) is his funny, sometimes harrowing account of the adventure. Raban vividly evokes the region's history and character in his tales of the native Salish and Kwakiutl tribes; of the difficulties encountered by George Vancouver on his 18th-century surveying expedition; and of the loggers, fishermen, and tour operators who live there today.

You could wait months to get a table at the French Laundry, the world-famous restaurant in Yountville, California (consistently rated number one in the United States by the New York Times, Gourmet, and USA Today). Now, with the publication of The French Laundry Cookbook (Artisan, $50), you can bring some of chef Thomas Keller's secrets home: recipes for those lobster crêpes and that sublime lemon sabayon tart. Can't boil water?The lush photographs will keep you dreaming until your next visit.

In the 1960's, Natasha Spender and her husband, the poet Sir Stephen Spender, fell under the spell of a ruined stone farmhouse with a view of Arles and the Alpilles. An English Garden in Provence (Harvill Press, $45) is her account of the estate's glorious evolution during the past three decades. The memoir features Sir Stephen's photographs, excerpts from his journals, and Natasha's recollections of the artists and writers--Francis Bacon and Iris Murdoch among them--who stopped by.

Novelist and self-taught botanist Jamaica Kincaid just published My Garden (Book) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23). Kincaid wrote about her seed-collecting trip through southern China for our September 1999 issue.

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