I got a good deal of very interesting books for Christmas, but there is always that one special book each year. The one I find the most engrossing and just can’t put down. This year, that book is the singularly strange Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ellen Morton. It’s a gift I’m very glad that I received, and one that’s making me think about how I might take on the year to come.
I’d seen Atlas Obscura placed prominently in holiday bookstore displays. It’s an attractive, heavy, expensive looking book, the kind bookstores love to feature in gift displays around the holidays, and the kind I usually can’t justify buying for myself. It seemed interesting, an atlas containing a bunch of strange places around the world, but looking at it too much would only make me want to buy a rather pricey book for myself when I needed to be buying presents for my friends and family. Luckily, my friends and family were smart enough to look for gifts for me in a bookstore, and someone got me this book. Created by a team from the website of the same name, Atlas Obscura revealed a whole bunch of crazy wonders to me.
There was the Poison Garden in England, a garden containing a collection of deadly plants from around the world. Some of the plants are so dangerous they have to be kept in cages. The always eerie Mutter Museum of Medical anomalies in Philadelphia is featured. There’s mention of The House on the Rock, an amazing roadside attraction that readers of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods might remember as a location explored in the book. Yes, it is exactly as strange and fantastical as you’d expect a location to be for Neil Gaiman to feature it in one of his books, and it is still accepting visitors.
What drew my eye the most though was a place shockingly close to where I lived. In fact, I could probably get there in just twenty minutes by car, then walk the rest of the way to the location itself. Atlas features Red Gate Woods in Lemont Illinois, and explains they are the resting place of the radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project, which was conducted in University of Chicago and Argonne Laboratories, both in my area. The reader is quickly assured that radiation levels in the woods are now at a safe level, so the area is perfectly fine to visit. Yeah, that is always something great to hear about basically your backyard. Still, I’d never known the potential strange adventure I had waiting for me so nearby until I opened up the Atlas Obscura.
The discovery made me realize something, something that excited me even more than the tales of “Real Fox-Headed Women” and “Cosmic Gardens” in the more distant parts of the world. I could go on an adventure right now. I could find strange, wonderful spots myself in places nearby that I simply hadn’t looked into before. Heck, Chicago is right nearby and that place has loads more entries in Atlas Obscura. I don’t do New Years Resolutions normally, but reading of all the cool places in this book, I am inspired to make a promise or resolution of sort. In the coming year, I will seek out some of these strange and fantastical locations I’m reading about now and have my own adventures. I will go out and explore the world in ways I haven’t before, and I will keep an eye out for the whimsical and fantastical.