Monday, May 10, 2010

Wanderlust: Books That Drift Our Hearts Away

by Martha Engber

When contemplating the nature of my upcoming presentation, An Evening in the Sahara Desert: Food, Photos and Reading from THE WIND THIEF, at 4 p.m. Sat., May 29, I realized what I most want to share with those who attend: the sense of wanderlust that causes us to read books about elsewhere.

I’ve been alternately plagued and saved by literary wanderlust since my youth. I grew up in an old Chicago suburb and on summer days would spread a blanket beneath a maple tree and read: Nancy Drew mysteries, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Bless the Beasts and the Children.

Though by adolescence, my favorite books were those that took me far away, which, by virtue of the books that captured by imagination, meant England: Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, My Cousin Rachel, The Secret Garden.

My passion for distant/remote/dreamy places has only increased, fed by the expansion of a global reading world where we’re now routinely treated to books that take us far, far from our daily lives. So that even if I can’t go to those places physically, I’m transported there in spirit.

And what’s the next best thing to reading about those places? Tasting the food from those regions. Tune in next Sun., May 16, when I’ll tell you what Northern African treat I’ll bring May 29 along with a list of recipes I recommend books clubs — or any readers — make and taste after reading THE WIND THIEF.

Until then, enjoy a few of the selections from my list of books about elsewhere:

Beyond America:

Contemporary Books About Elsewhere

(I’ll bring handouts of the full list on May 29)


Emily and Me by Kathryn White (South Africa)

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini (Zimbabwe)

On Air by Maniza Nazvi (Pakistan)

Tide Running by Oonya Kempadoo (Guyana)


The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (Afghanistan)

White Mughals by William Dalrymple (India)

The Middle Passage, V. S. Naipaul (Trinidad)

Island Journeys, Patti Marxsen (French colonial islands)