With the last days of summer on the horizon, it’s time to take a break from your research for a bit and pick up new titles from your local library. Lazy summer evenings and warm weekend afternoons are a great time to let your mind branch out and learn new facts and stories you might otherwise overlook. I have compiled some recommended reads which may help immerse yourself in a good story.
Page-Turning Road Trips
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Before he was stealing the stage in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, author Sarah Vowell was taking her own multi-stop road trip to chronicle the wartime experiences of the Marquis de Lafayette. The last surviving Revolutionary War general, the marquis was born Gilbert du Motier (he took up his title at the age of two), and much of his life was spent fighting and politically maneuvering for the high-minded ideals of democracy and freedom. This hero of two continents, to whom countless streets, counties, cities and landmarks are named, became the larger-than-life figure most of America has entirely forgotten.
Vowell’s book is an engaging and fun read. I love her writing style, a mixture of history and witty personal travelogue which moves the reader swiftly through the book.
This quote illustrates Vowell’s writing style: The newly dubbed General Lafayette was only 19 years old. Considering Independence Hall was also where the founders calculated that a slave equals three-fifths a person and cooked up an electoral college that lets Florida and Ohio pick our presidents, making an adolescent who barely spoke English a major general at an age I got hired to run the cash register at a Portland pizza joint was not the worst decision ever made there.
Vowell reminds me a lot of Bill Bryson, connecting past and present events in a way which is entertaining and thought provoking. This is not a dry book of facts! The author whisks the reader away to Lafayette’s childhood home in France and to the battle fields of a United States not yet born.
Pair this read with Vowell’s other book Assassination Vacation, and you have the makings of a great literary road trip!
World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain
I love and miss Anthony Bourdain. I met him at a book signing hosted by the Chicago Public Library in 2010, and he was a combination of funny, brash and kind. His books and his acclaimed television shows taught me to be a brave and fearless eater, and I am forever grateful. Posthumously published after his death, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide is exactly as the title suggests. This book is a detailed travel guide, organized alphabetically by country, providing suggestions for how to get around, what to do and where to eat in each location. Think of this as a structured general guide, not as a cohesive story, and as it was published after his death, most of it is not entirely in Bourdain’s own words.
Much of the text for the book was provided by other people, and most of Bourdain’s quotes seem to be lifted from his previously recorded television shows. Even though there was less previously unreleased content directly from Bourdain than I had expected, it still contains quite a bit of his own personal take on all of all the amazing places he visited. Anyone who has watched his shows can probably imagine or remember him quipping away through the page and recall his complex and charismatic personality.
Fountaindale Public Library card holders can rewatch episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series on HBO Max by checking out a Roku. If you’re not a cardholder, contact your local library to see if they have a similar device to checkout in your area.
Nala’s World: One Man, His Rescue Cat, and a Bike Ride Around the Globe by Dean Nicholson
A big, bearded, tattooed Scotsman on a bicycle journey around the world meets a sickly abandoned kitten on the side of a Bosnian road. This sounds like a Hollywood movie pitch, but it’s actually the true story of Dean Nicholson and his adopted traveling cat Nala.
I have been a follower of Dean and Nala’s Instagram account @1bike1world and YouTube channel since early 2019 when a friend sent me a link to their videos. Seeing this cute kitty sitting contentedly in a handlebar travel bag was too adorable to pass up! I have loved reading and watching their posts ever since.
A lot of the travel adventures set down in the book are from the YouTube videos I’ve previously seen, however, there were little bits of extra information sprinkled in throughout each chapter. As with most travel stories, Dean and Nala had stunning landscapes and more than a few bumps in the road during their adventure. From forgotten passports, wild animals and the lack of sunscreen, Dean and Nala proved to be an inseparable team.
From their last few posts, Dean is waiting to receive his COVID-19 vaccine in Austria. Then he’ll assess which countries he and Nala are eligible to travel to. Their ultimate goal is to bike to Thailand. You can read more up to date information about their adventures on their website.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves animals or who wants to experience the ups and downs of traveling on a bicycle.
Non-Fiction That Reads Like Fiction
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
The summer before I left for graduate school in Glasgow, Scotland, I completed my local library’s summer reading program by devouring every Bill Bryson audiobook on the shelf. My librarian recommended Notes from a Small Island in preparation for my studies abroad, and I loved the book so much I couldn’t help but read and listen to everything else!
With that experience of reading Bill Bryson, I absolutely recommend One Summer: America, 1927, which chronicles a huge volume of history-making events spanning just a few months. This is history you may have read in school or seen in a documentary but can’t quite place. Bryson offers up these flickering monochrome events of the past and re-writes them in dazzling color. The summer of 1927 was the theatre stage for Babe Ruth’s final home run pursuit, the great Mississippi River Flood, Herbert Hoover’s rise to power, Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House trip to South Dakota, the novelty of radio, the birth of television, Prohibition, how the Federal Reserve set up the the Great Depression, everything baseball, Henry Ford’s doomed rubber plantation in Brazil, the Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney boxing match, the execution of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, the building of Mount Rushmore, Ponzi schemes, the Ku Klux Klan, train travel, Al Capone, famous authors, racism, anti-Semitism, censorship, eugenics and Hollywood’s transition from silent film to talkies.
Do not let the length of this book dissuade you! This is a fantastic and engaging audiobook which is great for the group listening!
Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca
If you are a podcast listener, you might have found Mo Rocca’s Mobituaries series. I have loved each of these episodes. I really came to appreciate Rocca’s dry humor and wit from CBS’ Sunday Morning show, and I knew I had to check out the podcast. I wasn’t disappointed. The book was released around the same time as the podcast series, and I transitioned from the free digital downloads to the full audiobook version.
Mobituaries are obits on the famous and not so famous individuals who lives had not just an impact on America and other places around the globe. Each person featured in the book range from actors and singers to politicians to athletes to countries that no longer exist. In every case, the people and events written about had at one time had a place in American culture and folklore, but with both their passing and the the march of time have been forgotten by most people today.
If you are familiar with the podcast series, the book provides a few familiar names and makes a concerted effort to provide more details and information, which were not broadcast in previous episodes. So regardless if you’ve heard the podcast or not, readers and listeners alike will love this book! Mobituaries is another fantastic audiobook title which will keep everyone in the car entertained during long car rides.
If you have a summer book suggestion, drop us a line! We’d love to hear about what you are reading!
See You at the Library!