Non-fiction to take you away (even if you want to stay put)

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With heat pulling my tender strands into frizzy curls already, it’s high time we talk about summer reading.

As a kid, I was the book geek already tearing through her assigned books before the current school year was over. I have fond memories of Dad taking my sister and me to Crown Books, the bookstore that sat where a Panera now resides, to thumb through their children’s and young adult section for the classics. We spent hours wandering the aisles — the first place I remember my parents giving us a tiny bit of independence. (Don’t worry: they were just around the corner, Dad in sports and Mom usually in magazines.)

I miss summer reading. That might be why I love reading review copies: it feels like I’m back in my English program in college, perhaps? With a stack of books I must read? At heart, I can be fairly indecisive about novels — and it often helps if I’m on a schedule. Who doesn’t benefit from a good deadline now and then?

I’ll admit that, you know, going rogue with my reading was definitely exciting post-college; I loved choosing books at random, especially when I worked at Borders, because it felt almost . . . illicit. After being handed a syllabus for so many years, doing what I wanted was exhilarating.

Now I’m tired and often cranky and don’t know what I want. I want someone to tell me what I want. Isn’t it funny how that works?

Anyway. Summer reading. Traveling! Adventure! With no one telling you what you must read, here I go giving you a list of sorts. But it’s a short one. Whether you’re readying for a plane ride or staying perched in your air-conditioned living room through September, don’t we all love a little escape through reading?

Flip-flops and sunscreen optional.


Awesome Non-Fiction
That Takes You Away
(Even If You Want to Stay Put)


Paris LettersParis Letters by Janice MacLeod — Bored by a humdrum advertising gig, Janice scrimps and saves enough to leave her desk job and book a flight for Europe. Falling hopelessly in love with Paris wasn’t part of her plan — and this artist’s journey was just beginning. Enchanting, romantic and fun, I’ve thought of this story often since finishing in the winter. It’s the perfect book in which to lose yourself — and live vicariously through another. (And then you can check out her blog to continue the fun.)


Walk in the WoodsA Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Though I’m late to the Bryson fan club, he certainly has a new member. I inhaled most of this book coming back from California and wanted to don hiking boots by the time we touched down. The story of Bryson’s epic journey hiking the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods manages to weave history, environmental issues and self-discovery into one moving, humorous package. Bryson’s language is evocative; you can almost feel the mosquitoes. (Better him than us.) Full review of this one to come once I’ve collected my thoughts!


The Lost GirlsThe Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner — All at a crossroads, three friends climb off the corporate ladder to go and explore the world. Their year-long journey takes them to Brazil, Kenya, Australia and more, and their story of friendship and living for today was inspirational. A heavy dose of armchair travel with this one: you’re all over the place!


Bank of BobThe International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris — Featured in my reading honors for 2013, Harris’ account of traveling to meet those he has assisted with microfinance loans bears mentioning again. A travel writer, Harris has an open mind when he begins making $25 loans through Kiva.org — and his story is heartwarming without drifting into condescension. Funds are paid back by small business owners: hardworking men and women whose lives are changed forever by the money Harris once spent on coffee. We journey with him to Nepal and Morocco, Cambodia and India. The lessons reach far beyond the page.


Any favorite travel reads to recommend?
Just summer books you love?


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Book review: ‘Paris Letters’ by Janice MacLeod

Paris LettersIf ever there were a book I’d love to climb inside, an author through whom I could live vicariously, it’s Janice MacLeod. And Paris Letters.

After climbing the metaphorical advertising ladder in Los Angeles, Janice realizes her “dream job” — and dream life — aren’t quite what she imagined. Worn out by her 9-to-5 and dreaming of so much more than a dull commute and another birthday cake for a coworker, she begins to fantasize about a life beyond the square walls of her office. Encouraged to journal her thoughts and think about something more, a question rises to the surface: How much money does it take to change your life?

The answer is roughly 60K, actually — enough to quit her job, sell most of her worldly possessions and leave California for a walkabout in Europe. By scrimping wherever possible, she amasses enough to arrive in Paris and walk sip creamy lattes in the sidewalk cafes just as she imagined. Though she speaks no French, her arrival in the City of Light isn’t burdened by language barriers. She soon meets Christophe, a handsome butcher, and begins her French education rather romantically.

When she considered her talents back in America, one passion kept returning to her: art. Painting. With the time and freedom to now explore those dreams, she sets to work cultivating and fashioning an entirely new life for herself. And the results are pretty extraordinary.

Oh, friends. How to describe my love for Paris Letters? Picture me in my pajamas sipping coffee on a snowy day, imagining what it must feel like to step off a plane with only a tiny suitcase in a foreign city — unburdened, untethered, totally free. Though I love my own work, I know the constraints of a desk job all too well. The idea of abandoning it all to chase your passions — in Paris! — holds an allure I can’t deny.

For Janice, shedding her old skin and finding love in France is revelatory. Who among us can’t relate to holding that holy grail of professional accomplishment — that “I did it!” cup declaring you finally met a longstanding goal — only to realize . . . you’re not happy? It isn’t what you wanted after all? If the joy is in the journey, reaching the end of that journey — job stability; boring routines — isn’t actually so joyous in the end.

And that’s okay.

Janice’s experiences in Europe are absolutely enchanting — and I’m going to be honest here. It’s been a long time since I read a Paris- or London-themed book that didn’t make me green and rage-y with jealousy. Usually when I read a memoir about an American/Canadian upending their lives to eat macarons, write and paint abroad with a seemingly unending pile of cash, I think, Oh, golly — must be freakin’ nice.

Snidely. Like, in a really mean voice.

But here? All I felt about Janice’s story was complete enchantment. She’s down-to-earth, friendly, funny, interesting. Writing honestly about both her feelings on leaving behind her old life and the stress of beginning a new one (and with a new man), I bonded with Janice immediately — and that’s all to say nothing of her actual Paris letters, which she paints, writes and addresses to subscribers through Etsy. When I finished Paris Letters, I made a mad scramble to see if her work is still available online — and it is! My first letter is en route.

If you need me, I’ll be lingering around my mailbox.


4.5 out of 5!

Pub: Feb. 4, 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review


P.S. As Janice works to save enough cash to explore her wanderlust abroad, she makes many financial sacrifices and decisions (both big, like selling her car, and small). I was thrilled to see some of her tips at the end of the book! A few of my easily-attainable favorites:

1. Used up her beauty samples and creams that were just “so-so” before buying her favorites.
2. Stopped buying things just because they were on sale and a “good deal.”
3. Stopped buying decorative things for her apartment.
4. Invited friends out for hikes, coffee, or frozen yogurt, rather than wait until they invited her to pricey dinners.
5. Drank all the tea in her house before buying more. (And hey, sound familiar?)
6. Had car-free weekends, using her bike instead and saving gas. (Not feasible for all, but an interesting idea.)
7. Said no to dinners at restaurants, choosing to cook at home instead.
8. Did her own nails with already-purchased nail polish.
9. Got a cheaper phone plan — and a cheaper phone.
10. Stopped believing in storage solutions. The solution is to clean out closets.