Destination: Anywhere! Suggested Readings
All Library locations will close at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 18 for a staff development event.
This page offers a brief guide to the many exemplary books (and authors) that are official Destination: Anywhere! selections. All official selections are available for checkout from the Library: in addition to paperbacks, e-book and audio formats may be available.
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
Houston lawyer Jay Porter runs a floundering small-time practice – but his financial fate becomes the least of his worries after he rescues a floundering woman from drowning in the Buffalo Bayou. Suddenly, trouble comes for Jay from all sides as he investigates a murder near the bayou that leads him to the doorsteps of Houston’s elite and onto secreted oil fields. Despite escalating threats, Jay refuses to involve the police – certain that his past as a Civil Rights activist alongside Stoakly Carmichael as well as his own narrow acquittal from murder charges would bring down the law on him.
Suggested Readings: Fiction
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
A discrete newspaper advertisement unites four unlikely women for a foreign getaway that proves unexpectedly revelatory. From a medieval castle overlooking a bay along the Italian Riviera, the vacationers inhale the Mediterranean mood (defined by wisteria vines and sunshine) and discover a harmony that somehow eluded them in England. This poignant novel is also a classic that distinguishes a familiar premise with literary style, resonant observations, and more than a modicum of British wit. Von Arnim herself led a remarkable life defined by tempestuous romance and far-flung travel that she invested in her characters.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
This novel follows two young men – one a Russian army deserter, the other a curfew breaker – given less than a week to accomplish an impossible task: to find eggs in the siege-starved city of Leningrad. This odd couple contends against brutal survivalists, unpredictable partisans, and Nazi death squads while roaming battered streets and desolate countryside in their improbable search – all the while engaged in often crude yet admiring talk of literature and love as well as their beloved war-torn city. Benioff writes an alternately hilarious and devastating account of life amid war that weaves fact and fiction with spellbinding skill.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
This is the novel that inextricably fused gothic romance and the British moors – though the romance in Wuthering Heights soon gives way to a spiteful hatred. When Catherine breaks off a lifelong intimacy with Heathcliff, her humiliated and impoverished lover disappears – returning years later to claim his adoptive manor home, whose bent trees and thorns overlook a desolate landscape that now mirrors Heathcliff’s changed nature. Bronte endured stinging reviews of her only novel, published shortly before her death and long before critical opinion reversed itself to declare Wuthering Heights among the greatest works in the English language.
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
In pre-revolutionary China, Wang Lung is a peasant farmer whose ties to the land and his rice fields are strained but never severed. His fortunes rise after an unexpected opportunity allows him to expand his property, but this becomes an obsession that risks financial ruin – especially as once dark soils yield yellowing rice beds as drought sets in. Buck lived most of her life in China as the child of missionaries; her second novel, The Good Earth was a bestseller for two consecutive years and earned a Pulitzer Prize. In 1938, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Last Cattle Drive by Robert Day
Call this book a mid-western. Spangler Star Tukle is a Kansas cattleman with 6,000 acres and a low boiling point. When truckers and railroaders raise the price of shipping cattle to market, Spangler stages an old-fashioned cattle drive to Kansas City. Going with him are his two hands – Jed is the oldest and best hired man in the county while Leo is a part-time cowboy – and the brains of the outfit, his wife Opal. It is a story steeped in enormous horizons, pick-up trucks, and cold beer. I-70 will never be the same.
Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris
When a teenage bride-to-be goes missing, a pious desert guide named Nayir is hired to scour the Saudi Arabian desert – employing Bedouin skills to read the shifting sands for landmarks, weather patterns, and predators. When the girl turns up, inexplicably drowned, Nayir continues to investigate the murder with the help of a determinedly independent medical examiner who challenges his expectations of women. This debut novel earned Ferraris acclaim for her depiction of Saudi culture, normally closed off to outsiders but made accessible to her through marriage.
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
For years, Jim Wormwold fretted over the “disturbances” of the Cold War from the comfort of his island perch in Cuba. But as soon as the British intelligence service MI6 recruits the vacuum cleaner salesman, suddenly the prospects for global thermonuclear war seem much more insignificant – at least compared to the prospects for personal profit. All Wormwold has to do is file a few exaggerated reports to his handler, then lean back with a daiquiri and enjoy the new status symbols afforded for his daughter. That is, until his imaginative reports are deemed both credible and alarming by headquarters.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg
Smilla Jaspersen is an émigré from Greenland and scientific authority on ice and snow who cannot land a job in Copenhagen – though her belligerent antisocial behavior does not help. When her expertise confirms her suspicion that a neighbor’s death was not accidental, Smilla pushes past police resistance and methodically links a series of killings via shipyards, corporate fortresses, and the backstreets of the Danish capital. Tracing the murderous conspiracy lands Smilla onboard a secretive freighter bound for her homeland – though by this time the details of the plot render her unerring direction sense reeling. This literary mystery made the Stieg Larsson phenomenon possible.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
When a white preacher from Georgia uproots his family and replants them amid a jungle in the Belgian Congo, the scene is set for a life-threatening culture clash. Kingsolver tells this story from the revolving point-of-view of the wife and daughters of Nathan Price as they observe his repeated frustrations, such as local aversion to baptisms in the nearby river. The Price women watch with growing alarm as the consequences of political instability – involving the CIA – creep ever-closer. But politics never subsume this survival story that describes the toll of danger and decay, while exalting the healing that Africa promises.
Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener
This novel of interconnected stories set in the South Pacific – among coral specks deemed islands, lined by reefs and green with coconut palms – is based on Michener’s experience as a Navy aviation mechanic during World War II, meaning that readers can rely on the lush descriptions and details of a faraway lifestyle. The narrative relies on a variety of American servicemen, but also includes a colorful cast of indigenous and colonial characters, such as a Tonkinese mother seeking to marry off her daughter and a French planter courting an American nurse. This debut novel won Michener a Pulitzer Prize in 1948.
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly's father has disappeared. It's nothing new – but this time he's out on bail for cooking crank, and if he doesn't show for his hearing, the county will take the house Ree shares with her young brothers and a mother who is barely sane. Ree is determined to find her father, and tracks him through the Ozark snowdrifts and up and down rutted mountain roads – and through the people she hopes will have seen him: fellow meth dealers, old girlfriends, and the legions of Dolly kith and kin both inside and outside the law.
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
As a young boy in Barcelona, Daniel belongs to an underground literary preservation group that gifts him a rare book – so rare, that Daniel soon identifies it as the sole surviving manuscript by an author whose work is being systematically destroyed. When the devil comes calling to burn that final copy, Daniel and fellow literary acolytes seek refuge in the plazas and narrow alleyways of the Gothic Quarter even as they investigate hidden meanings and portentous signs found within the text. Incredibly faithful to the City of Counts – despite imaginative additions such as the Cemetery of Lost Books and the Hospice of Santa Lucia – Zafón counters these touches by grounding the story in Franco’s Spain.
Suggested Readings: Nonfiction
My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile by Isabel Allende
Call Number: 863.64 A43Z
Renowned for lush and inspired novels, Allende traces the motivation for her fiction to her upbringing in Chile – recounted here in charming detail that new and longtime readers will enjoy. This memoir is not always a fond reminiscence: Allende was forced out of Chile after the president – her uncle – was assassinated during a military coup. She also criticizes pernicious class consciousness (“our society is like a phyllo pastry, a thousand layers, each person in his place”) and cultural machismo that dismisses most intellectual contributions from women. While hers is an unvarnished and subjective view, Allende presents an inventively remembered portrait of her muse.
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
Call Number: 945.31 B48C
As the subject of authors and poets for centuries, does Venice need another literary treatment? Berendt answers convincingly with this wide-ranging exploration of the city and its people, a cast of eccentric actors tripping across a canal-lined stage. The destruction of an opera house is the through-line that allows Berendt to sniff around exclusive dinner parties, carnivals, and espresso bars while mingling with suicidal artists, aristocrats of immense wealth, and memories of historic personages. More observant of facts than in his previous book (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), Berendt leaves readers with just a hint of closure – apropos for a story that will continue as long as the city itself.
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Call Number: 919.4 B91i
The take-away from this travel adventure: that Australia is the deadliest place on Earth – a contention supported by a legion of jellyfish, snakes, spiders and crocodiles. And yet the irrepressible Bryson emerges unscathed from travels to the Gold Coast, the outback, and beyond – which he recounts with such appeal that readers might also conceive of Australia as the most entertaining place on Earth. Bryson takes equal delight in the geography, the determinedly upbeat populace, and the plentitude of queer stories – such as a non-governmental nuclear weapons test that went unnoticed in a vast stretch of desert Down Under.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
Call Number: 951.05 C45Z
This epic family history follows three women from successive generations as they are buffeted by changes brought by modernization in China. Chang tells stories of her grandmother (a concubine targeted by the warlord’s wife) and her mother (a young Communist revolutionary) before sharing her own struggles during the Cultural Revolution – from her conflicted presence in the Red Guard to the public humiliation of her parents, former party officials who dissented. While Chang extricated herself from a squalid life in rural communes and fled to England, her story is steeped in the troubled history of her homeland.
Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
Call Number: 944.36 G65P
Paris immediately conjures images of breathtaking facades along chestnut-lined boulevards lined by boisterous sidewalk cafes. The City of Light still exudes an exquisite romanticism that captures the American imagination. Gopnik is a New Yorker writer whose fish-out-of-water meditations on a five-year stay in Paris tackle everything from the dilution of French culture to the glories of its cuisine and the odd customs of Parisian kindergarteners. While strolling along the Left Bank and romping through the Luxembourg Gardens, he draws parallels between navigating an unfamiliar city and the new responsibilities of fatherhood that keep him grounded while taking in the sights of such storied streets.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Call Number: 813 H48Z
In the 1920s, a loose collective of writers, painters, and musicians were individually drawn to Paris – and in the heady environment of salons and bookshops, these questing artists were fused into their own movement and eventually dubbed “the Lost Generation.” The derivation of this term is examined in Hemingway’s classic memoir, which was published posthumously – but greater attention is given to how the people (including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ford Madox Ford) and the place would influence the words he wrote. More than once, Hemingway describes how he would try to imbue a story with his immediate Parisian atmosphere; in this book, he undoubtedly succeeds.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
Call Number: 796.522 K89I
A blizzard coming across Mount Everest in 1996 killed five climbers on their way down from the summit. Krakauer was among the survivors of the ill-fated party. A veteran climber whose literary merit even surpasses his mountaineering skills, Krakauer composed a breathtaking narrative of the ascent – including such disconcerting images as scores of oxygen tanks littering a ridge that marks the so-called death zone. Amid harrowing details of the deadly storm and haunting (sometimes guilt-ridden) recollections is a thoroughly researched account of how a natural wonder has been commercialized – with predictably deadly results.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Call Number: 364.152 L334D
Amid the great triumphs and notable persons attracted to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, there also came a serial killer – lured by anonymity afforded by a dense sprawl populated by millions of tourists. While famed architect Daniel Hudson Burnham constructed a 600-acre urban fairground, the self-named H.H. Holmes built a more infamous career, dismembering an estimated 200 young women over six months while the jubilee raged. Larson offers a seamless yet bifurcated story of inspiring artistic vision and gross depravity by focusing on the master builder whose greatest work became a pristine playground for a master killer.
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Call Number: 973.099 V97A
Sense of place and sense of history are equally vital as humorist and history buff Vowell combines her morbid personality and love for American history in this travelogue dedicated to visiting sites associated with three assassinated presidents: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. She searches out American arcana at memorials, totem poles, and graveyards (sometimes with her enthusiastic young nephew Owen in tow) while tripping along to more conspicuous spots such as Ford’s Theatre and the National Mall. Vowell machine-guns readers with an entertaining array of facts that blend history, high brow art and pop culture – from Munch’s The Scream to Johnny Cash and Home Alone.