Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Genre Reading Group Recap - Travel Writing

It was another superb meeting! I think we ranged across all continents and countries in our discussion as well as hitting on broader topics of travel, fitting in, cultural understanding, and more!

Next month, in celebration of The Big Read: Alabama Reads The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, we'll be discussing coming-of-age novels. As usual, I have some books pulled so feel free to come by any time (during regular library hours of course!) and look through them. If you don't see anything to your liking, we're happy to help you select something else.

Make plans to drop by the library's second floor Reference Desk on Thursday April 1st for the library's kickoff of Big Read programming! From 10am-5pm, we'll have cake, lemonade, and prizes. We will also have a *limited number* of books for giveaway. All giveaways and prizes are on a first-come, first-served basis so get here early if you can! Call or email if you have questions!

Here is the list of books we read and/or discussed:

Way Off the Road: Discovering the Peculiar Charms of Small Town America by Bill Geist
Throughout his career, Bill Geist’s most popular stories have been about slightly odd but loveable individuals. Coming on the heels of his 5,600-mile RV trip across our fair land is Way Off the Road, a hilarious and compelling mix of stories about the folks featured in Geist’s segments, along with observations on his twenty years of life on the road.

The Best Women's Travel Writing 2009: True Stories from Around the World
This best-selling, award-winning series presents the finest accounts of women who have traveled to the ends of the earth to discover new places, peoples — and themselves. Read an interview with the editor of the 2010 Best Women's Travel Writing.

Give Me the World by Leila Hadley
This travelogue about the mystery-shrouded Far East is a must-read book. However, there are hazards in doing so. Originally published in 1958, Give Me the World clutters up the tidy notion that women in the '50s were all Donna Reed clones. Leila Hadley, a 25-year-old divorcée with a plum PR position in Manhattan tossed aside conventionality and shipped out to Hong Kong--her 6-year-old son in tow. Hooking up with characters from scholars and mystics to a quartet of American sailors, she traveled to locales such as Ceylon, Bombay, Bangkok, and Delhi, sailing much of the way on a schooner on which she was a bona fide shipmate. (Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print)

Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road by Donald Miller
(Originally published as Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance) Fueled by the belief that something better exists than the mundane life they've been living, free spirits Don and Paul set off on an adventure-filled road trip in search of deeper meaning, beauty, and an explanation for life. Many young men dream of such a trip, but few are brave enough to actually attempt it. Fewer still have the writing skills of Donald Miller, who records the trip with wide-eyed honesty in achingly beautiful prose. In this completely revised edition, he discusses everything from the nature of friendship, the reason for pain, and the origins of beauty. As they travel from Texas to Oregon in Paul's cantankerous Volkswagen van, the two friends encounter a variety of fascinating people, witness the fullness of nature's splendor, and learn unexpected lessons about themselves, each other, and even God.

French by Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France by Rebecca Ramsey
First-time author Ramsey adopts a sweet but never cloying tone to tell the charming story of her family's four-year stint in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Ramsey, a young mother of three whose husband's company relocates them to France, recounts what it feels like to sell the family home in South Carolina, say good-bye to everyone you know and move overseas. Rather than tell the story chronologically, Ramsey links the narrative to everyday events recalling the pitfalls and petite triumphs inherent in each encounter. Moreover, because the family's command of French is minimal, routine tasks often become embarrassing lessons.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Enjoy an irresistible feast of humour and discover the joys of French rural living with Peter Mayle's bestselling, much-loved account of "A Year In Provence". Peter Mayle and his wife did what most of us only imagine doing when they made their long-cherished dream of a life abroad a reality: throwing caution to the wind, they bought a glorious two hundred year-old farmhouse in the Luberon Valley and began a new life. In a year that begins with a marathon lunch and continues with a host of gastronomic delights, they also survive the unexpected and often hilarious curiosities of rural life. From mastering the local accent and enduring invasion by bumbling builders, to discovering the finer points of boules and goat-racing, all the earthy pleasures of Provencal life are conjured up in this enchanting portrait.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
In this memoir of her buying, renovating, and living in an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Frances Mayes reveals the sensual pleasure she found living in rural Italy, and the generous spirit she brought with her. She revels in the sunlight and the color, the long view of her valley, the warm homey architecture, the languor of the slow paced days, the vigor of working her garden, and the intimacy of her dealings with the locals. Cooking, gardening, tiling and painting are never chores, but skills to be learned, arts to be practiced, and above all to be enjoyed. At the same time Mayes brings a literary and intellectual mind to bear on the experience, adding depth to this account of her enticing rural idyll.

House by Tracy Kidder
Kidder takes readers to the heart of the American Dream: the building of a family's first house with all its day-to-day frustrations, crises, tensions, challenges, and triumphs.

Fried Eggs with Chopsticks by Polly Evans
Evans' third travel book finds the intrepid author making her way across China by any means possible: plane, train, bus, boat, mule. Alternately funny and informative, the book focuses primarily on the people and places Evans encountered along the way, but you can't write a book about a nation as old as China without dipping into its history from time to time--exploring, for example, the Yungang Grottoes near the coal city of Datong, where there are 51,000 Buddhist carvings etched into the face of a cliff; or taking a boat trip up China's longest river, the Yangtze, where a controversial damming project has created quite the stir. Evans is a hands-on kind of travel writer. She likes to try new things and hang out with new people, and she writes travel lit at ground level: noisy, colorful, and entirely delightful. Comparisons to Bryson, Cahill, and Theroux, while obvious, would not be unwarranted.

It's Not About the Tapas by Polly Evans
Single, stressed, and living amid the hustle and hurry of modern Hong Kong, Polly Evans had a vision: of mountains and orange groves, matadors and promenades–and of a glorious, hassle-free journey across Spain by bicycle. But like any decent dream, Polly’s came with its own reality: of thighs screaming with pain and goats trying to derail her, of strange local delicacies and overzealous suitors. In fact, like any great traveler, Polly had bitten off more than she could chew–and would delight in every last taste of it. Exploring the country that gave the world flamenco, chocolate, sherry, Franco, and Picasso, Polly takes us from the towering Pyrenees to the vineyards of Jerez de la Frontera, spinning tales of conquistadors and kings, vibrant history and mouthwatering cuisine. In the end, this hilarious, irreverent, always engaging memoir of a journey on two wheels unveils a lot about one modern woman, even more about an utterly fascinating nation, and countless reasons why it’s better when you do it on a bike.

Kiwis Might Fly by Polly Evans
Polly Evans was a woman with a mission. Before the traditional New Zealand male hung up his sheep shears for good, Polly wanted to see this vanishing species with her own eyes. Venturing into the land of giant kauri trees and smaller kiwi birds, she explores the country once inhabited by fierce Maori who carved their enemies’ bones into cutlery, bushwhacking pioneers, and gold miners who lit their pipes with banknotes—and comes face-to-face with their surprisingly tame descendants. So what had become of the mighty Kiwi warrior? As Polly tears through the countryside at seventy-five miles an hour, she attempts to solve this mystery while pub-crawling in Hokitika, scaling the Southern Alps, and enduring a hair-raising stay in a mining town where the earth has been known to swallow houses whole. And as she chronicles the thrills and travails of her extraordinary odyssey, Polly’s search for the elusive Kiwi comes full circle—teaching her some hilarious and surprising lessons about motorcycles, modern civilization, and men.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Tahir Shah
As a child, Tahir Shah learned the first secrets of illusion from an Indian magician. Two decades later, he set out in search of this man. Sorcerer's Apprentice is the story of his apprenticeship to one of India's master conjurors and his initiation into the brotherhood of godmen. Learning to unmask illusion as well as practice it, he goes on a journey across the subcontinent, seeking out its miraculous and bizarre underbelly, meeting sadhus, sages, sorcerers, hypnotists, and humbugs. His quest exposes a side of India that most writers never imagine exists.

Review material pulled from

Happy reading!

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