The board members of the Friends of the Seattle Public Library seem to be doing a lot of armchair traveling these days, even if it’s exploring what it means to be an outsider here in America. Here’s a sample of what they’re reading in case you’re looking for recommendations:
Tall Man : The Death of Doomadgee, by Chloe Hooper. This true-crime story explores the death of an Australian Aborigine who was arrested for swearing at a white police officer and then died in jail within an hour. While the book follows the manslaughter trial, Hooper also explores Aboriginal life and the long history of institutional racism in Australia. Board member Connie found the story tragic, exhausting, and worth reading. Critics have compared the novel favorably to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.
Nomad’s Hotel : Travels in Time and Space, by Cees Nooteboom; translated from the Dutch by Ann Kelland. Nooteboom is a Dutch novelist and travel writer, and this series of travel essays covers trips made from the 1970s through 2002. The Booklist review notes that “descriptive travelogue ranks second to considerations of the destinations as repositories of the past. Whether in Venice, Isfahan, or Timbuktu, Nooteboom sees a place through its physical relics and literary associations. The traveler’s innate foreignness, however well informed before arrival in a new place, burgeons with significance for Nooteboom. A traveler arrives, sees, and departs, not likely to return.”
Gertrude Bell : Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations, by Georgina Howell. Board member Mary enjoyed this biography of Gertrude Bell, an extraordinary woman who took the world by storm in the early 1900s. The starred review in Booklist by Donna Seaman notes that “Born to British industrial wealth and civic prominence during the Victorian era, [Gertrude Bell] possessed boundless self-confidence, courage, and vitality. The first woman to earn top honors in history at Oxford, Bell was fluent in six languages, and became an intrepid traveler and celebrated mountaineer. Tragically unlucky in love, she romanced the world instead. Discovering her spiritual home in the Middle East, Bell transformed herself into a cartographer, archaeologist, writer, and photographer as she undertook perilous journeys to fabled desert outposts, commanding the respect of powerful Bedouin sheikhs. During World War I, Bell became the expert on Mesopotamia for British military intelligence, and a more crucial force in the forming of modern Iraq than that of her friend, T. E. Lawrence. From Cairo to Basra to Baghdad, Bell, against fierce adversity, devoted herself to justice.”
Digging to America, by Anne Tyler (e-book read by Blair Brown). This novel follows two families who meet by chance at the airport to greet their newly adopted baby girls from Korea. One family is very “American,” while the other family has more recent immigrant roots. As the two families get to know each other, the Iranian-born narrator grandmother explores impressions of American, and what it means to try to fit in . . . . or not. Board member Joan especially enjoyed listening to Blair Brown’s reading of the book, so the link above is to the Books on Tape version, which can be downloaded electronically. It is of course also available in hardback and in large print.