SOME NEW books that appeal to the traveler's perception, palate, purse or precautionary nature - and sometimes a combination:
"The National Parks," text by Michael Frome, photos by David Muench (144 pp., more than 120 full-color photographs, $29.95, Rand McNally).
With respect and affection, this beautiful, large-format volume covers each of the 37 national parks from Mount McKinley in Alaska to St. John in the Virgin Islands. Frome, an enviromental writer and acknowledged expert on the park system who lives in Alexandria, offers a very personal but, at the same time, factual and authoritative look at areas he has visited and explored repeatedly over the past decade.
Frome is concerned: "In our age of supertechnology and overpopulation, everything is threatened - marshes, deserts, prairies, the few remaining virgin forests, the rivers, the Great Lakes, the oceans beyond the continents . . ."
he notes, "Being a preservationist, I search for the ultimate and find instead the flaws." And though some users of the park system are willing to compromise a bit more than Frome, there can be no doubt that he is on firm ground when he writes: "Today there's a growing awareness of the need to provide sanctuary for endangered species in the undisturbed enviroment of national parks." Or when he writes: "True, the national parks are designed to be visited and enjoyed, but they are in danger of being loved to death; they simply cannot be all things to all people."
Pointing out that "the entire national park system covers a mere 1 per cent of the nation's land area," he advocates the creation of new parks to "meet the needs of the people."
Muench's photographs are striking; the reproduction is excellent.
"Where to Eat in America," edited by William Rice and Burton Wolf (422 pp., $5.95, Random House).
Aside from "it might have been," the saddest words of tongue or pen may well be those spoken by a traveler in an unfamiliar town: "What's a good place to eat?"
Because unless the visitor is very lucky, the answer could be a galloping two-antacid disaster - not to mention the monetary waste.
But now come Rice and Wolf to the rescue of businessman and tourist alike with their volume that is modestly subtitled "An indispensable guide to finding what you want to eat when you want to eat it in the 30 most-traveled American cities."
It is "intended for anyone away from home who is hungry or is about to be hungry" and is aimed at "people whose primary desire is to find food prepared with imagination and distinction." The main reason, then, for including a restaurant is the "quality of the cooking." No attempt is made to be comprehensive (readers are invited to use the form at the back of the book to tell the authors about restaurants that have been missed).
Perhaps I should point out before going any further that, while I am not acquainted with Wolf, who is considered one of the "world's leading authorities on the selection and care of cooking equipment," and contributes to periodicals and TV programs, Bill Rice is one of my colleagues.
Rice, executive food editor of this newspaper, has degrees from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. That makes for a well-seasoned blend of talents. Rice also has been a theater critic, hence I think he would agree with my feeling that there is at least some parallel between theater criticism and restaurant evaluation.
In both cases, it is wise to know the tastes of the critic, his likes and dislikes, if you are to have a better chance of being satisfied with his choices. However, while the theater critic does not have the luxury of being a specialist in, say, comedy, some food writers know a good deal about certain types of cooking and have less expertise about others. Rice's knowledge and interests are broad, running the gamut from fine wines (he wrote the book's short but excellent primer on "Wine in Restaurants") to hot dogs.
The prose is straightforward and there is no waffling in making value judgments, though as Rice explained in answer to a question:
"The tone has been controlled to eliminate hyperbolic, euphoric writing. It may not make a number of restaurant men happy; it was not written to please anyone. But it is also not a book full of ego-boosting slams to the detriment of restaurants. In any case, we had no space for that kind of thing." So the very bad places are simply ignored.
Neither Rice nor Wolf visited every restaurant their book lists, though they are personally familiar with many.
"We set up a format, we set up the criteria," Rice said. "We chose people that we knew who shared our attitudes toward eating in restaurants."
The book lists 30 expert "contributors" from around the country. There was "cross-checking," said Rice, and other guides were studied. Questions were directed at contributors if editors Rice and Wolf noted certain restaurants had been passed over or other possible discrepancies.
The result is a readable gastronomic guide so well organized that, as Rice puts it, "on a jet 15 minutes out of a city, you can pop open your briefcase and have a good idea where you want to eat."
The section on each city begins with a painless introduction about customs and food history, which also includes some restaurants not listed in that chapter. The headings are self-explanatory. Examples: "Big Deal" (subheadings, "worth it" and "not worth it"); "International"; "For Individual Needs" (including "if you have time for only one meal," "business lunch," "for tourists" and - when one is available - "restaurant near airport").
One important caveat should be kept in mind. As any experienced traveler knows, there is a certain ephemeral quality about the ratings of resort hotels. In the Caribbean, for example, a few months after a change in managers a hotel can drop rom first place to last. And developments are sometimes equality rapid and surprising in the restaurant business.
In the chapter on Washington, which Rice wrote, the Sheraton-Carlton's luncheon buffet is rated as the "Best Hotel Meal." I have eaten there frequently and I agree. But around the time the book was being published, the hotel-s management was making changes - including a short-lived (fortunately) attempt to reduce the buffet to primarily roast beef, ham and beans daily. Happily, it's now rolling along again with a variety of savory selections and fresh fruit - though somewhat changed in character due to the closing fo another dining room.
Who's listed under "Big Deal" in Washington? You'll find it on Page 411.
"The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery," by A.J. McClane with photos by Arie de Zanger (511 pp., 695 color photos. $35, Holt, Rinehart and Winston).
Whether for an old hand at fishing, a complete novice (like me) who likes to throw in a line while on a beach vacation, or someone who prefers to eat fish rather than catch them, this volume makes a fine gift. In the foreword, McClane immediately gains my approval by taking a dig at restaurants which "believe that 'fresh' means recently thawed."
McClane has impressive credentials - fishing editor of Field & Stream for 30 years, gourmet and seafood consultant ("in a lifetime dedicated to piscatorial matters, I have enjoyed every fish, bivalve, mollusk and crustacean described or mentioned in this book"). He notes that "many species of fish that once were abundant and cheap have become scarce and expensive, and points out that because of the "rate of population growth, our oceans and fresh waters will be exploited to a greater extent than ever."
Here you will find excellent tips on preserving the quality of your fresh-caught fish by lessening chances of bacterial contamination; what to look for when buying "fresh" fish in a market at home or on vacation; 352 recipes with step-by-step procedures for preparation - and the opportunity to identify you catch by checking the more than 150 species listed.
Plus a few thumbnail sketches:
"Dial 800" (42 pp., $2.30 postpaid, Dial 800 Publishing Co., P.O. BOx 995, Radio City Station, N.Y. 10019) and "Traveler's Toll Free Telephone Directory" (128 pp., $2.50 postpaid, Landmark Publishing, Box 3287, Burlington, Vt. 05401) are listings of toll-free 800 phone numbers for airlines, resorts, campgrounds, etc. Convenient and money-saving (the phone company doesn't publish these numbers).
"Travel for the Patient With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease" by Dr. Harold M. Silver, illustrated by Myra Feldman (36 pp., 70 cents, George Washington University Medical Center). A well-executed booklet that shows persons who suffer from ailments such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma "how to travel with safety and ease."
"Gene Sarazen's World Golf Directory . . .With Tennis" edited by Joseph Gambatese (208 pp., $7.50 postpaid, 1721 DeSales St. NW, Washington 20036) lists 1,600 courses "from the Catskill Mountains to the Fiji Islands."
Rosenberg is travel editor of The Washington Post.