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Armchair Travel: The USA (Part Two)

I am itching to get back into an aeroplane, and to be able to resume the exploring which I so adore. Until that can be a reality, however, I have started an Armchair Travel series here on the blog. There will loosely be one post, focused on a geographical location which I really want to visit, per month. Here is a collection of ten books set in three more US states which I can’t wait to visit.

Alaska

If You Lived Here I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende

‘Tiny Haines, Alaska, is ninety miles north of Juneau, accessible mainly by water or air—and only when the weather is good. There’s no traffic light and no mail delivery; people can vanish without a trace and funerals are a community affair. Heather Lende posts both the obituaries and the social column for her local newspaper. If anyone knows the going-on in this close-knit town—from births to weddings to funerals—she does. Whether contemplating the mysterious death of eccentric Speedy Joe, who wore nothing but a red union suit and a hat he never took off, not even for a haircut; researching the details of a one-legged lady gold miner’s adventurous life; worrying about her son’s first goat-hunting expedition; observing the awe-inspiring Chilkat Bald Eagle Festival; or ice skating in the shadow of glacier-studded mountains, Lende’s warmhearted style brings us inside her small-town life. We meet her husband, Chip, who owns the local lumber yard; their five children; and a colorful assortment of quirky friends and neighbors, including aging hippies, salty fishermen, native Tlingit Indians, and volunteer undertakers—as well as the moose, eagles, sea lions, and bears with whom they share this wild and perilous land.’

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

‘It’s 1910. In a cabin north of the Arctic Circle, in a place murderously cold and desolate, Sig Andersson is alone. Except for the corpse of his father, frozen to death that morning when he fell through the ice on the lake. The cabin is silent, so silent, and then there’s a knock at the door. It’s a stranger, and as his extraordinary story of gold dust and gold lust unwinds, Sig’s thoughts turn more and more to his father’s prized possession, a Colt revolver, hidden in the storeroom. A revolver just waiting to be used…but should Sig use it, or not?’

Shopping for Porcupine: Life in Arctic Alaska by Seth Kantner

‘His story begins with the arrival of his father, Howard Kantner, to the remote Arctic of the 1950s and ends with him as a grown man settled in the same landscape. Through a series of moving essays and vivid photographs, ranging in subject from family histories to hunting stories, celebrations of people and places to a lament over a majestic wilderness rapidly disappearing, Shopping for Porcupine provides a compelling, intimate view of America’s last frontier — the same place that captivated so many readers of Ordinary Wolves.

Oregon

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

‘At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.’

Wild Life by Molly Gloss

‘It is the early 1900s and Charlotte Bridger Drummond is a thoroughly modern woman. The sole provider for her five young boys, Charlotte is a fiercely independent, freethinking woman of the West who fully embraces the scientific spirit that is sweeping the nation at the dawn of the industrial age. Thumbing her nose at convention, she dresses in men’s clothes, avoids housework whenever possible, and proudly supports her family by writing popular women’s adventure stories. Ready to show off her knowledge of the local flora and fauna and have an adventure of her own, Charlotte joins a search party for a child who has disappeared in the deepwood wilderness on the border between Oregon and Washington. But when she gets lost herself, she is thrust into a mysterious world that not only tests her courage but challenges her entire concept of reality Starving and half dead from exposure, Charlotte is rescued by a band of elusive, quasi-human beasts. As she becomes a part of the creatures’ extended family, Charlotte is forced to reconsider her previous notions about the differences between animals and humans, men and women, and above all, between wilderness and civilization Beautifully written and historically accurate, “Wild Life” is a highly original tale set at the very edge of civilization, where one woman takes on the untamed world of nature, and in the process, discovers much about the deepest recesses of her very own human nature. Putting a surprising, revitalizing, feminine spin on the classic legend of Tarzan and other wildman sagas, award-winning novelist Molly Gloss delivers a rich portrait of America’s northwestern frontier at the start of the twentieth century.’

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

‘Isabel is a single, twentysomething thrift-store shopper and collector of remnants, things cast off or left behind by others. Glaciers follows Isabel through a day in her life in which work with damaged books in the basement of a library, unrequited love for the former soldier who fixes her computer, and dreams of the perfect vintage dress move over a backdrop of deteriorating urban architecture and the imminent loss of the glaciers she knew as a young girl in Alaska. Glaciers unfolds internally, the action shaped by Isabel’s sense of history, memory, and place, recalling the work of writers such as Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, and Virginia Woolf. For Isabel, the fleeting moments of one day can reveal an entire life. While she contemplates loss and the intricate fissures it creates in our lives, she accumulates the stories—the remnants—of those around her and she begins to tell her own story.’

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

‘This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white. In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, here is a portrait of a young girl – and society’s ideas of race, class, and beauty.’

Maine

The Cider House Rules by John Irving

‘Raised from birth in the orphanage at St. Cloud’s, Maine, Homer Wells has become the protege of Dr. Wilbur Larch, its physician and director. There Dr. Larch cares for the troubled mothers who seek his help, either by delivering and taking in their unwanted babies or by performing illegal abortions. Meticulously trained by Dr. Larch, Homer assists in the former, but draws the line at the latter. Then a young man brings his beautiful fiancee to Dr. Larch for an abortion, and everything about the couple beckons Homer to the wide world outside the orphanage.’

Cost by Roxana Robinson

‘When Julia Lambert, an art professor, settles into her idyllic Maine house for the summer, she plans to spend the time tending her fragile relationships with her father, a repressive neurosurgeon, and her gentle mother, who is descending into Alzheimer’s. But a shattering revelation intrudes: Julia’s son Jack has spiraled into heroin addiction. In an attempt to save him, Julia marshals help from her looseknit clan: elderly parents; remarried ex-husband; removed sister; and combative eldest son. Ultimately, heroin courses through the characters’ lives with an impersonal and devastating energy, sweeping the family into a world in which deceit, crime, and fear are part of daily life.’

Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout

‘In her luminous and long-awaited novel, bestselling author Elizabeth Strout welcomes readers back to the archetypal, lovely landscape of northern New England, where the events of her first novel, Amy and Isabelle, unfolded. In the late 1950s, in the small town of West Annett, Maine, a minister struggles to regain his calling, his family, and his happiness in the wake of profound loss. At the same time, the community he has served so charismatically must come to terms with its own strengths and failings—faith and hypocrisy, loyalty and abandonment—when a dark secret is revealed. Tyler Caskey has come to love West Annett, “just up the road” from where he was born. The short, brilliant summers and the sharp, piercing winters fill him with awe—as does his congregation, full of good people who seek his guidance and listen earnestly as he preaches. But after suffering a terrible loss, Tyler finds it hard to return to himself as he once was. He hasn’t had The Feeling—that God is all around him, in the beauty of the world—for quite some time. He struggles to find the right words in his sermons and in his conversations with those facing crises of their own, and to bring his five-year-old daughter, Katherine, out of the silence she has observed in the wake of the family’s tragedy. A congregation that had once been patient and kind during Tyler’s grief now questions his leadership and propriety. In the kitchens, classrooms, offices, and stores of the village, anger and gossip have started to swirl. And in Tyler’s darkest hour, a startling discovery will test his congregation’ s humanity—and his own will to endure the kinds of trials that sooner or later test us all. In prose incandescent and artful, Elizabeth Strout draws readers into the details of ordinary life in a way that makes it extraordinary. All is considered—life, love, God, and community—within these pages, and all is made new by this writer’s boundless compassion and graceful prose.’

Have you read any of these? Where are you wanting to visit when we can all travel safely again?

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Reading the World: America (Part Four)

Ten more books from my shelves, ranging from the glamorous to the inventive, and featuring some of my all-time favourite protagonists.

97814472120721. Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann (Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; review here)
‘The epitome of East Coast glamour, Tiger House is where the beautiful and the damned have always come to play in summer, scene of martinis and moonlit conspiracies, and newly inherited by the sleek, beguiling Nick. The Second World War is just ending, her cousin Helena has left in search of married bliss in Hollywood, and Nick’s husband is coming home. Everything is about to change.Their children will suprise them. One summer, on the cusp of adolescence, Nick’s daughter and Helena’s son make a sinister discovery that plunges the island’s bright heat into private show more’

2. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Maine)
‘Olive Kitteridge: indomitable, compassionate and often unpredictable. A retired schoolteacher in a small coastal town in Maine, as she grows older she struggles to make sense of the changes in her life. She is a woman who sees into the hearts of those around her, their triumphs and tragedies. We meet her stoic husband, bound to her in a marriage both broken and strong, and a young man who aches for the mother he lost – and whom Olive comforts by her mere presence, while her own son feels overwhelmed by her complex sensitivities. A penetrating, vibrant exploration of the human soul, the story of Olive Kitteridge will make you laugh, nod in recognition, wince in pain, and shed a tear .’

3. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (Ohio) 9780007393718
‘An eccentric and totally irresistible read’ Glamour Rosalind. Bianca. Cordelia. The Weird Sisters. Rose always first, Bean never first, Cordy always last. The history of our trinity is fractious – a constantly shifting dividing line, never equal, never equitable. Two against one, or three opposed, but never all together. Our estrangement is not drama-laden – we have not betrayed one another’s trust, we have not stolen lovers or fought over money or property or any of the things that irreparably break families apart. The answer, for us, is much simpler. See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much.’

4. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (Georgia)
‘Set in a small town in the American South, it is the story of a group of people who have little in common except that they are all hopelessly lonely. A young girl, a drunken socialist and a black doctor are drawn to a gentle, sympathetic deaf mute, whose presence changes their lives. This powerful exploration of alienation is both moving and perceptive.’

97800995186245. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (Connecticut)
‘Hailed as a masterpiece from its first publication, Revolutionary Road is the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a bright young couple who are bored by the banalities of suburban life and long to be extraordinary. With heartbreaking compassion and clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April’s decision to change their lives for the better leads to betrayal and tragedy.’

6. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Illinois)
‘When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight Judge Judy – loving best friend riding shotgun – but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.’

7. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Washington) 9780749010720
‘1986, The Panama Hotel The old Seattle landmark has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to interment camps during the Second World War. Among the fascinated crowd gathering outside the hotel, stands Henry Lee, and, as the owner unfurls a distinctive parasol, he is flooded by memories of his childhood. He wonders if by some miracle, in amongst the boxes of dusty treasures, lies a link to the Okabe family, and the girl he lost his young heart to, so many years ago.’

8. The Professor’s House by Willa Cather (New Mexico)
‘On the eve of his move to a new, more desirable residence, Professor Godfrey St Peter finds himself in the shabby study of his former home. Surrounded by the comforting, familiar sights of his past, he surveys his life and the people he has loved: his wife Lillian, his daughters and, above all, Tom Outland, his most outstanding student and once, his son-in-law to be. Enigmatic and courageous – and a tragic victim of the Great War – Tom has remained a source of inspiration to the professor. But he has also left behind him a troubling legacy which has brought betrayal and fracture to the women he loves most…’

97803857224389. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (South Carolina)
‘Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, * The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.’

10. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (Mississippi)
‘The death and burial of Addie Bundren is told by members of her family, as they cart the coffin to Jefferson, Mississippi, to bury her among her people. And as the intense desires, fears and rivalries of the family are revealed in the vernacular of the Deep South, Faulkner presents a portrait of extraordinary power – as epic as the Old Testament, as American as Huckleberry Finn.’

 

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