Books To Take You Elsewhere
Since many of us are spending most of our time in our homes, and extensive travel is out of the picture for the indeterminate future, we present a new list of staff recommendations featuring books that have a strong sense of place—books that have the potential to transport a reader elsewhere with evocative, finely etched settings. This travel itinerary includes early 2000s Rome, 20th-century Kilanga, the pre-Civil War South, Victorian England, the Austrian Alps, Prince Edward Island, two stops in Oakland, with more stops along the way. Happy reading, bon voyage.
The Poisonwood Bible | Barbara Kingsolver
When The Poisonwood Bible opens, it is 1959 and Nathan Price is moving his family from the American South to the Belgian Congo. The minster plans to convert the villagers of Kilanga to Christianity, though his efforts to intercede on their behalf are met by surprises and resistance he is unable to anticipate. The novel is narrated by Orleanna Price, Nathan’s wife, and their four daughters. Though Nathan sees his mission as helping the Congolese villagers, more often than not it is the Congolese helping the Price family navigate their lives in Kilanga. For the Price women, Kilanga is a both a magical and mercurial place, where the river is overrun with crocodiles and an infestation of ants can eat through a village’s worth of crops overnight. The resistance of the land to foreign intervention is soon to be mirrored by the Congolese people. The Prices have arrived as the movement for independence will rid the country of its Belgian colonizers. The Congo affects all of the Prices, though none could anticipate the changes it will produce. —Patrick Rayner, Acquisitions Assistant
Food of Love | Anthony Capella
One year I read and watched every single work of art inspired by Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, and Food of Love is the only one I can say permanently impacted my...diet. This quickly read rom-com is light as a white plume and neither too convincing nor too PC, but delicious in its soup-to-nuts portrayal of early-2000s Rome from the fountains to the scooters to the language. Rather than soldiers spouting poetry beneath a balcony, this Cyrano story involves chefs competing to serve their American-visitor Roxane the perfect risotto. The behind-the-scenes look at a high-pressure ristorante kitchen, the little cups of espresso on the piazza - OK, now I'm all hungry. —Sara Elliott Holliday, Head of Events
There is something cathartic about reading a story centered in a different time, in all-too-real history, yet that also embodies the fantastical. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates is that very tale. For those of you who don't know, the story is set in the pre–Civil War South and is focused on an extraordinary protagonist named Hiram Walker, who possesses a photographic memory. Despite this ability, he cannot remember his mother, just fragments of sensory memories of her. With conflicting and harsh realities, he discovers his ability to transport people over long distances by using a power known as "conduction," which allows him and others to travel across impossible distances.
The tale is ripe with surrealism and magical realism yet very much a powerful all-too-true story of the Underground Railroad and the horrors of slavery. In this strange time, especially with recent political-social events, I find this book to be a testimony of strength, courage, and determination. As Harriet Tubman would say, "Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going." —Marialuisa Monda, Events Assistant
Landscapes and places often make an indelible, immersive, powerful impression on children. Adults may see more, but children can observe more deeply and openly. These two excellent novels written for adults but featuring children as protagonists include wonderful setting descriptions that really come to life. Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) is a mystical novella/fable about faith and courage set in the Austrian Alps, where a young brother and sister get lost on the day before Christmas while returning home from their grandparents' house. As the snow falls steadily and rises higher and higher, the landscape becomes magical—frightening and beautiful. A High Wind in Jamaica (aka The Innocent Voyage) by Richard Hughes (1900-1976) is an unusual tale about a group of children captured by a band of pirates in the West Indies. Much of the story takes place at sea, but the otherworldly, transportive descriptions of 19th-century Jamaica at the beginning of the book—with its plantation ruins, lush vegetation, bathing holes, bats, and lizards—unforgettably renders a magical and dangerous place for children. For more of this kind of thing, also see Walkabout by James Vance Marshall, featuring two American children lost in the Australian outback after a plane crash (see the Nicholas Roeg film adaptation, too), and W.H. Hudson's memoir of his 19th-century childhood in Argentina, Far Away and Long Ago, chronicling the formative years of a future ornithologist's obsession with nature. —Steven McGuirl, Head of Acquisitions
Mysteries are my favorite go-to genre for relaxation. There is Jessica Fletcher (Murder She Wrote) and, recently, the Honourable Phryne Fisher (Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries) - no one can convince me that they're not modern-day tricksters. Of course, we also have the classics, such as the Miss Marple and Hercule Poroit series by the Queen of Mysteries herself. [We have a handful of Agatha Christie titles in our Cloud Library; as well as this whole shelf of classic mysteries from Tey, Allingham, Marsh, Stout, etc.. --ed.]
Then, of course, there is Sherlock Holmes, the one who started it all.
He is arguably the most famous fictional detective ever created and is one of the best-known and most universally recognizable literary characters in any genre. In addition to enjoying the detection skills of Holmes and Watson, each time I read a Sherlock Holmes story, I am instantly transported to late Victoria-era Britain, from the cobblestones of London to the haunted Dartmoor in Devonshire. From The Hound of the Baskervilles to his short stories ("The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is my personal favorite), there is just nothing like reading a Sherlock Holmes book. Immense pleasure from start to finish, guaranteed. —Marialuisa Monda, Events Assistant
The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series | Alexander McCall-Smith
Through The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall-Smith, I’ve been spending a lot of my time in Botswana during this time at home. I read a number of the earlier titles closer to their publication years ago, and remembered the contagious optimism tempered with a dose of reality based on human nature that the series’ main character, Mma Ramotswe, provided. The land around her, which she appreciates so deeply, is almost like one of the characters running through the twenty-one volumes. Her day-to-day philosophy of life, interwoven with the mysteries she solves, is substantive without being preachy and has provided a good tonic for our current environment. —Catherine McGowan, Circulation Librarian
The Gaither Sisters trilogy | Rita Williams-Garcia
The Gaither Sisters trilogy is a set of books that each transpire in a different setting, and author Rita Williams-Garcia truly transports her readers to the various locales. The series begins in 1968 with One Crazy Summer (ebook available), in which the New York-based Gaither sisters are forced to spend a summer getting to know their distant mother in Oakland, California. In P.S. Be Eleven, Delphine, Vonetta, & Fern are back in their Bed-Stuy neighborhood navigating a new school year and heaps of changes to the people and places there. Finally, in Gone Crazy in Alabama, the sisters head south to visit their grandmother and discover some mysteries in their family's history. All of the stories are rich in humor and make delightful read-alouds. Get to know the Gaither sisters this summer as they travel all over America. — Susan Vincent Molinaro, Children's and Young Adult Librarian
Anne of Green Gables | L.M. Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables is a beautifully written book that transports you to Prince Edward Island, Canada. The protagonist, Anne Shirley, is an orphan who is sent to the farm of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert named Green Gables in the fictional town of Avonlea. The setting is perfect for Anne as she draws inspiration from her surroundings to feed her large imagination. I loved reading this book because it makes you feel that you are in Avonlea alongside Anne as she goes on her adventures. It also really makes me want to visit Prince Edward Island. —Mirielle Lopez-Guzman, Circulation Assistant