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


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 — 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?

Book review: ‘The Lost Girls’ by Jen Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner

Three friends are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime: a year’s free pass away from friends, family and work obligations; a chance to see the world and participate in customs once viewed only on TV shows or in novels.

The catch? Well, there isn’t one — except for the fact that Holly, Jen and Amanda are all choosing to leave behind their relatively stable lives in New York City to pursue an uncharted course. All headed toward a dreaded quarter-life crisis, the ladies ponder what their next steps will be: in their relationships, cutthroat jobs and busy existences away from home. A journey away from it all seems like an opportunity they can’t let escape.

And so begins Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner’s The Lost Girls, a travel memoir about friendship, acceptance, culture and life on the road. Through the pages of this 500-page tome, we dance with locals in Brazil, assist nurses and the sick in Kenya, study yoga in India and so, so much more. It’s a lengthy book but a worthwhile read, and one that had me eager to collect a few more stamps on my passport.

Just not quite the way they did.

Could I imagine essentially “quitting” my life for a year to travel the globe, meeting strangers and sleeping in hostels and using a bathroom that isn’t really a “bathroom” at all? Absolutely not. In the year in which Amanda, Jen and Holly plan their trek, they save money relentlessly — and vow to live as cheaply as possible while traversing the countries they start to call home. It’s impossible not to draw parallels between The Lost Girls and Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s chronicle of her time traveling after a painful divorce. Though none of the authors leave New York in search of enlightenment persay, quite the way I believe Gilbert did, they still come home completely different people.

Not that that’s any shock.

The memoir is told in chapters alternating between Jen, Holly and Amanda’s points of view and, as a reader, I thought this worked well; we get to hear everyone’s side of the story. At times I struggled to distinguish between each narrator’s voice, though I think that’s a testament to their similar writing talents and friendship; though their opinions of each place differed, their presentation was largely the same.

I related most to Holly, a writer struggling to sustain her passionate but distant relationship with boyfriend Elan, an actor. Holly was the bold and athletic member of their trio, always managing to get in a run or embark on a new project — regardless of the country where they were currently storing their backpacks. More than anything, I admired the ladies’ ability to live simply but beautifully — and to be brave and bold enough to attempt something this adventurous.

As a book, their tales felt a little long . . . and, at times, repetitive. New country. New people. New guys. Throw into a pot and simmer, then serve and repeat. But that didn’t mean I didn’t still enjoy the story overall and curiously read about each new experience — because it was fun and total escapism, plus it portrayed their friendships both positively and negatively . . . so, you know, realistically. Though they don’t sugarcoat their experiences in developing countries, they’re always careful to highlight both the challenges and triumphs in each place — and I felt like, overall, I got a good feel for each of their destinations.

My favorite chapter dealt with Amanda, Jen and Holly’s time in Kenya, where they volunteered with a nonprofit and worked with young women living at a nearby boarding school and given the chance for a real education. The students’ fascination with Western women and American culture was eye-opening, and I loved the scene where the authors are able to share music through their iPods with the girls or actually watch a movie — something the Kenyan girls had never experienced. Simple things we take for granted. Simple concepts that are anything but simple elsewhere in the world.

Don’t be too discouraged by its girth and my drawbacks — despite the size of The Lost Girls, this travel memoir is very readable, interesting and compelling . . . especially to twenty-somethings with a taste for the open road and desire to think about what comes “next.” I enjoyed the epilogue, too; a satisfying conclusion to a satisfying journey.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061997390 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours