The Reader’s Shelf | February 1, 2013

Now, Voyager: Book a Journey of the Imagination

Much of the joy of reading can be traced to the various destinations waiting to be explored from the comfort of one’s own home, be the trip a fantasy or to a real locale. These seven works explore the concept of place from varying perspectives, including a grand escape, a search for home, and a vacation gone awry.

In Chris Cleave’s Little Bee (S. & S. 2010. ISBN 9781416589648. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781416593836), Sarah O’Rourke, the editor of a posh British women’s magazine, impulsively books a bargain-priced Nigerian beach junket in hopes that she and her husband can rescue their collapsing marriage. There they attempt to fend off a group of terrorists chasing two young women on the beach. Sarah makes a great sacrifice to save one, but the other is brutally murdered. The consequences of these actions unfold within the story, brilliantly told in the voice of the young woman (newly named Little Bee) and Sarah.

The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach at Cape Cod by Henry Beston (Owl: Holt. 2003. ISBN 9780805073683. pap. $15.99) chronicles a solitary year spent on the coast of Massachusetts’s Cape Cod. Beston, previously a World War II ambulance driver, then a journalist and writer, had initially planned on a two-week retreat before deciding to extend his stay in his handmade summer beach cottage on the sandy dunes. Recording descriptions of his year on the outermost shores, including the study of the tides, stars, bird migration, and weather, Beston penned a journal that evolved into a classic of American nature writing. This chronological catalog of delights, musings, and wonders offers readers seeking escape from their daily cares a contemplative look at nature and time.

In Selden Edwards’s novel of time travel, The Little Book (Plume: Penguin Group [USA]. 2009. ISBN 9780452295513. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781440637544), Wheeler Burden, a rock star and author, finds himself transported from 1988 San Francisco to 1897 Vienna. He is now destined to meet his father and other family members, will encounter Samuel Clemens and Sigmund Freud, and must search for a place in a time line not his own. Wheeler keeps a journal of his great adventure in fin de siècle Vienna, never quite knowing how he arrived there but vowing to find purpose in his visit.

Some readers may have already met the Mayles, the ex-pat Brits making a home in southern France, in the best-selling travel memoir A Year in ProvenceEncore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France (Vintage: Random. 2000. ISBN 9780679762690. pap. $13.95) offers up a most delightful array of new treats. Peter Mayle and his wife, Jennie, now thrive as the owners of a 200-year-old stone farmhouse, nestled in the foothills of the Luberon Mountains. They have much to say about the local food and villages in this delightful guide to the area.

Macon Leary is a Baltimore travel writer. His marriage is unraveling, owing to the murder of his young son, and when his wife finally leaves, he and his unruly dog move in with his siblings in Anne Tyler’s funny, charming, and character-rich The Accidental Tourist (Ballantine. 2002. ISBN 9780345452009. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780307416834). Then he meets Muriel, a decidedly peculiar dog-­obedience trainer from the Meow Bow Animal Hospital. She turns Macon’s lonely and uneventful world upside-down, inviting him to officially take part in his life.

Alex Kotlowitz is a New Yorker who unintentionally fell in love with Chicago and its suburbs when he arrived as the Wall Street Journal’s urban affairs reporter. In Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago (Crown. 2004. ISBN 9781400046218. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781400097500) he opts to detail the city by profiling its people, such as union activist Ed Sadlowski, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, muralist Milton Reed, and Dave Boyle, who took on the mob and nearly lost. An enlightening ode to a rough-and-tumble town.

On Whale Island: Notes from a Place I Never Meant to Leave (Algonquin. 2002. o.p.; ebk. ISBN 9781565128095) is Daniel Hays’s account of moving his family to a remote island off the coast of Canada’s Nova Scotia. Hays, a wilderness survival expert with a master’s degree in environmental science, fulfills a fantasy by living off his wits. He uses solar power to generate electricity and rainwater for showers, puts the beds on pulleys, and makes a toilet seat out of a whale vertebra. This blissful Peter Pan existence is initially a hit with everyone, but it’s not long before Hays’s family finds it a bit much. Told through diary entries, this account of Hays’s most unconventional life intrigues, but it is the touching tale of how he gets to know his family that really resonates.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at