Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Hilarious, touching, and wistful, this novel unexpectedly won the Pulitzer Prize. Arthur Less, almost 50, is a minor novelist, occasional teacher, and very appealing company. Avoiding both his birthday and the wedding of his younger lover Freddy, Arthur accepts invitations to travel for an interview, an award ceremony, a retreat, a teaching assignment, and as a food critic in order to get away. With his beautifully tailored blue suit, Arthur visits New York City, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Paris, Morocco, southern India, and Kyoto, Japan. There are some funny travel mishaps, and he’s far from being as fluent in German as he believes. Arthur thinks that most of these invitations come from his association with an older, award-winning poet, and has a humble opinion of his own talents, especially as his current manuscript needs major revisions. A truly charming story, this novel is an enjoyable, rewarding read.
Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh
Finally, a feel-good novel perfect for summer reading. Set in England, Paris, Monaco and Italy, it’s also great for armchair travelers. Tim Gandy is feeling overlooked. At 55, he’s facing early retirement and must admit that his marriage to Isobel is rather blah. He’s close to only one of his three children, although Rosie is pregnant, so there’s happily a grandchild in his future. Tim has always dreamed of traveling in Europe, and Rosie encourages him to make his Grand Tour, even without Isobel, who dislikes travel. Despite feeling a bit guilty indulging himself, he’s off to Paris. Sketching at Versailles, he meets Francine, a gallery owner, who fascinates him. In Monaco, he meets Archie, a young yacht salesman, and poses as a consultant in a very funny scene aboard a superyacht. Afterwards, Archie takes him to meet his Aunt Rosamund, an elderly novelist who give Tim some good advice. The author is known in Great Britain for his gardening books and television shows, and does an excellent job with the gorgeous scenery and giving the story a strong sense of place. The characters are appealing, the story is not too predictable, and it’s quite charming. Perfect escapist reading, although it may make you long to escape to the Riviera, Paris, or Italy for a stroll in a garden or to enjoy a fabulous meal.
Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist
Artist Zoe makes a long overdue visit to her friend Camille in France, and impulsively decides to hike the Camino de Santiago from central France to the Spanish border. Her budget is small and she is hiking because of a recent death in her family. Martin, a British engineer working in France, decides to test his design for a one-wheeled cart by hiking with it from Cluny to Santiago. Better equipped and organized, Martin often stays in inns and enjoys gourmet meals while Zoe’s budget barely covers hostel dormitories. However, the trail keeps bringing the unlikely pair together, especially when they are both dealing with upsetting news from home. The scenery is dramatic, the other hikers a quirky bunch, and the dialogue is witty and funny. I enjoyed this charming romantic comedy inspired by a three-month hike of the Camino in 2011 by Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion and his wife, writer Anne Buist. Film rights have been sold.
Patagonian Road: A Year Alone Through Latin America by Kate McCahill
Kate McCahill brings the reader along on her yearlong journey through Central and South America, roughly following by bus the journey Paul Theroux made decades earlier by train. She gets a writing fellowship that pays for Spanish lessons, rooms in hostels, food, and travel. Kate also volunteers as an English teacher in a couple of villages and in Buenos Aires. She misses her lover and her Finnish grandmother, shares her joys and fears, and tries to immerse herself in the local culture, although she’ll always be a traveler, not a local. While readers of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild may enjoy this book, I think closer readalikes are Wild by Nature, by Sarah Marquis, and Jodi Ettenberg’s blog, Legal Nomads. I enjoyed the occasionally lyrical writing, descriptive without being wordy, and McCahill’s willingness to share her experiences and feelings with the reader.
The Not-Quite States of America, by Doug Mack
This is an entertaining and informative tour of our far-flung territories and commonwealths, some nearly forgotten. Travel writer Doug Mack visits St. Thomas & St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. While these islands are all part of the United States, their residents don’t have the same rights as residents of the fifty states, and these vary from territory to territory. Tourism and the U.S. military are major employers. From native islanders, Danes, and Japanese, Mack learns about each area’s history and listens to the debates about their futures, all while enjoying good company and some excellent food. An enjoyable and thought-provoking tour of some overlooked parts of America.
Walking the Nile by Levison Wood
Levison Wood, who was a major in a British parachute regiment, likes a challenge. So why not hike along the banks of the entire Nile River, over 4000 miles? So off he goes, with a guide, occasionally a police escort, and even pack camels in the desert, to find his path through swamps, lakes, villages, cities, and desert. He is very discouraged at times, especially after extremely high temperatures leads to tragedy. Sometimes he can’t remember why he’s making such a challenging journey, such as when dealing with bureaucratic red tape or civil unrest. But the extremely warm welcomes he finds in small villages, and numerous wildlife encounters, including rescuing a baby monkey whose habitat has been burned, enliven the book. Wood doesn’t mention until the acknowledgements at the end that a small film crew shared parts of the journey with him, a curious oversight. I earlier reviewed his second book, Walking the Himalayas, which was more enjoyable for the reader (and probably the explorer), although less suspenseful.
Connected with our adult summer reading program, Exercise Your Mind, Read! we have some suggestions for what to read this summer. In the library this month, you will find a book display full of Real Life Adventure books, and a booklist to take. Several of the books on the list have been reviewed on this blog, as I enjoy reading them from time to time. What is real life adventure? Typically, these books are memoirs of an individual or group on an adventure, usually traveling somewhere exotic, where hardships are likely, such as mountain climbing, rowing across the ocean, or volunteering around the globe, or where survival is uncertain, such as a plane crash in the 1940s in New Guinea. If you’re looking for something refreshingly different, my lengthy booklist follows.
551.21 Dvo Dvorak, John. The Last Volcano: A Man, a Romance, and the Quest to Understand Nature’s Most Magnificent Fury, 2015.
551.566 Bog Bogard, Paul. The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, 2013.
597.33 Cas Casey, Susan. The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival among America’s Great White Sharks, 2005.
623.88 Gre Greenlaw, Linda. Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea, 2010.
629.45 Jon Jones, Chris. Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space, 2007.
629.45 Nel Nelson, Craig. Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, 2009.
636.7 Rya Ryan, Tom. Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship, 2011.
796.522 Sim. Simpson, Joe. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, 2004.
796.522 Vie Viesturs, Ed. No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks, 2006.
796.525 Tab Tabor, James. Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, 2010.
796.64 Ben Benson, Brian. Going Somewhere: A Bicycle Journey across America, 2014.
797.123 Bro Brown, Daniel. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, 2013.
797.123 Rac Rackley, Adam. Salt, Sweat, Tears: The Men Who Rowed the Ocean, 2014.
797.32 Dix Dixon, Chris. Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth, 2011.
910.4 Fer Fermor, Patrick Leigh. The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, 2014.
910.4 Fri Friedman, Rachel. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure, 2011.
910.4 Mal Malusa, Jim. Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents, 2008.
910.4 Mar Marquis, Sarah. Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot, 2016.
910.4 Mar Marshall, John. Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, 2015.
910.4 Pod Podell, Albert. Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth, 2015.
910.41 Goo Goodman, Matthew. Eighty Days: Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, 2013.
910.41 Wig Wigge, Michael. How to Travel the World for Free: One Man, 150 Days, Eleven Countries, No Money! 2013.
910.452 Sid Sides, Hampton. In the Kingdom of the Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, 2014.
910.45 Kur Kurson, Robert. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship, 2015.
910.9 Eva Evans, James. Tudor Adventurers: An Arctic Voyage of Discovery: The Hunt for the Northeast Passage, 2014.
916.2 Mah Mahoney, Rosemary. Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, 2007.
916.3 Sha Shah, Tahir. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, 2003.
916.48 Kin King, Dean. Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival, 2004.
916.751 Tay Tayler, Jeffery. Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness, 2000.
917.3 Web Weber, Bruce. Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, etc., and a Bike Ride Across America, 2014.
917.4 Mil Miller, David. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, 2011.
917.4 Sil Silva Cruzatt, Judith. The Voyage of Yankee Lady: Circumnavigating New England on a Sailboat, 2013.
917.4 Stu Stutzman, Paul. Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Feedom on the Appalachian Trail, 2012.
917.79 Sto Storey, Gail Donohue. I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, 2014.
917.9 Tow Townsend, Chris. Rattlesnakes and Bald Eages: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, 2014.
917.94 Alt Alt, Jeff. Four Boots, One Journey: A Story of Survival, Awareness, and Rejuvenation on the John Muir Trail, 2014.
917.94 Rob Roberts, Suzanne. Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail, 2012.
918.11 Mil Millard, Candice. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, 2005.
919.4 Hil Hill, Geoff. Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph, 2010.
919.89 Ast Aston, Felicity. Alone in Antarctica: The First Woman to Ski Solo Across the Southern Ice, 2014.
919.89 Fra Francis, Gavin. Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins, 2013.
919.89 Rob Roberts, David. Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration, 2013.
932 Rya Ryan, Donald. Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist, 2010.
940.544 Zuc Zuckoff, Mitchell. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II, 2013.
940.54497 Mur Murphy, Brian. 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness, 2015.
940.5451 Kur Kurson, Robert. Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II, 2004.
940.54725 Hil Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, 2010.
940.548 Zuc Zuckoff, Mitchell. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, 2011.
972.81 Car Carlsen, William. Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya, 2016.
973.93 Cap Caputo, Philip. The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean, 2013.
978 Buc Buck, Rinker. The Oregon Trail: A New Journey, 2015.
978.02 Sta Stark, Peter. Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: a Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, 2014.
979.82 Sch Schooler, Lynn. Walking Home: A Traveler in the Alaskan Wilderness, a Journey into the Human Heart, 2010.
985 37 Ada Adams, Mark. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, 2011.
BIO Grylls Grylls, Bear. Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography, 2012.
BIO Strayed Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, 2012.