Posted by: Neil Hollands
As I’ve said before in this space, I love the thematic format for book groups. It gives every reader room to choose for themselves and makes each meeting an adventure in discovering new titles. I like how I get to know my groupmates’ personalities by the book choices they make.
Our staff group at Williamsburg Regional Library met recently to discuss the theme of travel. It was a broad theme and I knew with the personalities in our group we’d get some interesting selections.
Barbara got us started with Twenty Chickens for a Saddle, Robyn Scott’s memoir of growing up in Botswana. The colorful lives of her extended family -parents, grandparents and siblings- along with an attentive eye for the flora, fauna, and people of their transplanted home (dad is a physician) make this a vivid read. The AIDS epidemic and economic troubles factor into the story, but mostly this is a child’s eye tale of a unique early life.
Amy teased us with a description of a young bride’s exotic honeymoon trip, but it turned out her book was The Indifferent Stars Above. Yes, it focuses on a young woman’s travels, but this wasn’t any honeymoon: the subtitle of Daniel James Brown’s new history is The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride.
Cheryl had a fine little stack: Judy Corbett’s Castle in the Air, about turning a Welsh castle into a B & B, including retrieving the interior of a room carted away by William Randolph Hearst; Jon Winokur’s grumpy little quote book The Traveling Curmudgeon; and two books about the “Happy Valley Set,” the hard partying white colonists who lived in Kenya between the two World Wars. The new book is The Bolter, a study (and something of a defense) of Idina Sackville by her great grand-daughter Frances Osborne, but Cheryl still prefers the true crime focus of James Fox’s White Mischief.
Our next two selections were classics of the travel genre. Gail had Travels with Charley which is remarkable now because of how vigorously it complained about the homogenization of America… in its publication year of 1962! Steinbeck would really be ornery now. And if you haven’t been keeping up, Charley is a poodle.
Melissa had Bill Bryson’s persnickety memoir of how not to hike the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods. We collectively wondered how Bryson can please gentle readers with books full of language that normally sends such folks running for the exit. It’s quite a gift to spend dozens of pages describing in detail what bears (and overweight middle-aged men) do in the woods and still come off as lovable.
Cela had Cash Peters’ Naked in Dangerous Places. Peters was hired on for a reality series where he was dropped off in a strange country each week without any possessions (but no don’t ask my dumb question: he’s not that kind of naked) and required to go native, getting by mainly on his charm. The show was quickly cancelled, but Peters gets good mileage out of the demise and tells some funny stories of diverse places (Dubai, Vanuatu, Morocco, Alaska and Cambodia, to name a few.)
I brought State by State, a fine collection of essays about our 50 states by 50 writers that I’ve described here before and in greater depth on my library’s blog here.
Finally, Connie had two favorites, Mike Leonard’s The Ride of Our Lives, a sometimes-funny, sometimes-poignant look at his travels cross country in a Winnebago with his parents and Robert Olen Butler’s book of short stories Had a Good Time, in which he uses his collection of turn-of-the-century postcards as starting points for the stories.
By the time we were done, we’d been on an armchair adventure around the world, which on librarian salaries, is as good as we can hope for!