Summer is a time for exploration…for road trips and sailing trips and airplane voyages and stay-cations. And that last one, those stay-cations, might very well be the best kind–know why? Because it gives you plenty of time to head to the library and check out one of these books! <–That, right there? That was a shameless plug. But I am ok with with this, because it’s true.
Some of the best voyages I have ever taken have been via library books, not only because they were tales of derring-do and far-flung adventures, but also because the books I read usually ended in unmitigated disaster, questionable success, or nightmare monsters that follow you home. They are the kind of adventures you simply can’t have in real life (and probably shouldn’t, if you have any plans of telling people about them later). And that is why we have fiction–to take us away, and let us explore those shadowy, shiny, mysterious places that we simply couldn’t see otherwise, and let us come home safely at the end.
So for those of you ‘armchair explorers’ like me (or beach-chair explorers, or adirondack-chair explorers), then these books might be for you. Most of them feature unreliable narrators, which is one of my favorite tropes in all of fiction; every step in the story is like paddling into uncharted waters. You can never tell if what you see is real, or if the tide might shift without warning, dragging you into another place entirely. But I can guarantee, you will return with quite a story to tell!
So….If you like adventure novels perfect for a summer stay-cation, Then check out:
Pandora in the Congo: I originally started reading this book simply because it was there, and the first scene was really ludicrously funny. But the more I read, the more I was absolutely captivated by the adventure tales it contains, the consistently unsettling feeling of dread that closes around the main characters, and the unrelenting tension that builds as the narrators confession slowly unfolds. Though this story is recorded by Tommy Thompson, a ghostwriter’s ghostwriter’s ghostwriter (you read that correctly), it is told by Marcus Garvey, a man attached to a disastrous African expedition to the Belgian Congo that resulted in the murder of the expedition’s leaders, brothers William and Richard Carver and the disappearance of the African crew. Garvey promises to tell Thompson precisely what happened in the jungle–but whose truth is he telling? Though this is meant to be a pastiche of the 19th-century African adventure novels that were so popular in the British empire, this is so much more than satire. It is a heart-rending, blisteringly fast-paced, and simply unforgettable tale that you need to read to believe.
Life of Pi: Yann Martel’s now-classic novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2002, and has since been turned into a popular film, but don’t let it’s public acclaim deter you from giving this book a try. It’s gentle, subtle, sometimes ridiculous humor makes the narrator, sixteen-year-old Pi, instantly endearing. Pi is the sole survivor when the cargo ship carrying his family and a menagerie of animals sinks on its way to Canada. He recounts his experiences after the fact, telling about his tiny life raft, adrift in the Pacific, with only Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan, and an enormous royal bengal tiger. The story itself is extraordinary, wildly imaginative, and completely transporting. However, like Pandora in the Congo, the real magic of this book lies in the revelations that Pi holds back until the book’s end, and the lessons he reserves for those willing to take his journey with him.
Oscar and Lucinda: This is one of my favorite books ever. Ever ever. It is one of those books that I make people read in order to determine if we can be friends. Peter Carey is a master storyteller, and it’s impossible not to fall under his spell in any book he has penned, but this historic narrative is his masterpiece, dealing with big themes like love and faith, as well as colonialism and capitalism. Haunting, and hauntingly beautiful, heartbreaking and inspiring, this is the tale of Oscar, a minister’s son who is terrified of water and addicted to gambling, a Lucinda, a determined survivor who owns a glass factory. They meet on an oceanic voyage to Australia–a moment that will change them and challenge them, and culminate in an insane, and stunning wager to transport a glass church across the Australian Outback. Carey gives both his hero and heroine an enormous collection of quirks, foibles and shortcomings, but they only make them both more human and real, and transforms the journey across the outback into something so much bigger than them both. There are passages in this book that are quite honestly breathtaking in their beauty, and will leave readers changed for the better.
Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art: Carl Hoffman shows what a talented journalist can do with a well-worn, but little-understood story. The disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the twenty-three-year old son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1961, was the stuff of international news. Michael vanished somewhere around New Guinea while searching for native cultures and their art to fill his museum in New York. While the family and the Dutch government (who controlled New Guinea at the time) asserted that Michael had drowned in an attempt to swim to land after his catamaran capsized. But questions lingered about whether Michael had made it to shore, and died at the hands of the people who lived there. Hoffman not only weaves a tale of adventure–both Michael Rockefeller’s and his own in trying to follow his footsteps–but he also explains the cultures, faiths, and traditions of the people who live in the areas that Michael encountered, explaining the unending repercussions of colonialism and invasion that continue to affect their way of life to this very day. This is an informative, moving, and relentlessly exciting story that will appeal to history buffs as well as adventures seekers.
Happy Adventures, Beloved Patrons! We hope to see you soon!