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Adventure awaits

Books that take readers to different places, times, or ways of thinking

Adventure awaits
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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Anne Fadiman

From the book’s first chapter, Fadiman shows the cultural disconnect between a Hmong immigrant family and the well-meaning doctors in Merced, Calif., who care for Lia Lee, a Hmong child with severe epilepsy. In scene after scene Fadiman shows how the parents’ worldview, education, and culture provide a lens through which they view their daughter’s illness, the doctors, and themselves: For example, they think Lia Lee’s disease is a spiritual gift and choose not to use medications in the way the doctors intend. Excellent reporting of a tragic story plus standout writing make this a modern classic.

Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria

Noo Saro-Wiwa

The Nigerian government executed Saro-Wiwa’s activist father in 1995. That marked the end of her annual visits to her native land. Fifteen years later she returns as an adult, ready to explore the country as a tourist who is both an insider and outsider. She writes positively of the country’s natural beauty, historical artifacts, and diverse populations but harshly describes corruption, tribal factions, and what she sees as dysfunction. Unlike many travel writers, she pays attention to religion and describes its manifestations—although she tends to see negative rather than positive effects.

Dispatches from Pluto

Richard Grant

When British writer Grant and his longtime girlfriend decide to move from New York City to the Mississippi Delta, they don’t know what they’re getting into. They believe stereotypes about racists, rednecks, and guns—and they find Delta residents have their own ideas about Yankees. This exploration of the Delta through the eyes of strangers is funny, at times raunchy (with plenty of bad language), and insightful. Grant never reduces either his white or black neighbors to stereotypes, and readers will get a sense of the area’s beauty, its painful history, and the reason it has birthed so many fabulous storytellers and musicians.

A Time of Gifts

Patrick Leigh Fermor

When Leigh Fermor was 18, he embarked on a great adventure: walking from Holland to Constantinople. The year: 1933. He filters his descriptions of landscapes and people through eyes and ears trained by great art, literature, and classic languages. The word student written on his passport earned him the kindness of strangers and innkeepers. In one German workhouse manned by monks, he couldn’t leave in the morning until after he chopped wood. The book relies on Leigh Fermor’s journals, which note the mounting Nazi presence, and he occasionally inserts a note about a person or building not surviving the war.


There are many ways to travel, including back in time. That’s what Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson does. First published in 1939, the memoir is set in 1880s England, in a small hamlet and nearby market town in Oxfordshire. Thompson grew up there and bases the books on her childhood observations, offering unsentimental portraits of people, events, and ways of thinking. Although she never writes in the first person, “Laura” is based on her childhood self. She describes old country ways—including a generous helping of childhood rhymes and ballads—as they were fading away. Her engaging prose and eye for detail make the work a Little House on the Prairie for grown-ups. The BBC series is a charming complement to the book. —S.O.

–Please read the next page in this issue’s special Summer Reading section: "Heavy books, lifted spirits"

Susan Olasky

Susan is a former WORLD book reviewer, story coach, feature writer, and editor. She has authored eight historical novels for children and resides with her husband, Marvin, in Austin, Texas.



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