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We Came, We Saw, We Left: a Family Gap Year by Charles Wheelan

Charlie Wheelan is standing on a train platform in Medellin, Colombia and two of his children are missing. So begins Charles Wheelan’s account of his family’s gap year adventure. Charlie and Leah decided to take a year (or 9 months) and travel around the world with their children ages 13-18. We Came, We Saw, We Left: a Family Gap Year is an entertaining chronicle of seeing the world with and through evolving youth.

Charlie and Leah traveled the world the year after they graduated from college. Now, having turned fifty, they want to recreate that adventure with Katrina, Sophie, and CJ. Katrina just graduated from high school and can delay college for a year. High school junior Sophie (16) and 8th grader CJ will be home-schooled. Charlie, an author and a professor at Dartmouth College, and Leah, a math teacher, can take sabbaticals. Now how do they pay for the trip?

They decide to rent their house while they are gone and use the rent money for lodging. Only the things that are required to be were booked in advance such as flights and excursions. As for the rest they travel local buses, taxis, and trains and they do a lot of walking. They have a daily food allowance, a small amount of ‘free’ money per person and Leah is in charge of the budget.

The Wheelan family are seasoned travelers so with expenses figured out and a flexible itinerary of where they want to go, what could go wrong? Well, you can be at one train station, your wife at another, and Katrina and CJ missing somewhere in Medellin. Spotty Wi-Fi, no cell service, and vying for limited space on local transit are just some the challenges the family face and take in stride as they traverse the globe.

A world map entitled Nine Months, Six Continents, Three Teenagers is at the beginning of the book and shows the route from Hanover, New Hampshire to South America. Then on to New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Vietnam to Calcutta, Cape Town, back to India then Germany and other stops along the way before returning to New Hampshire nine months later.

No time line is given for the journey. They were in Colombia in September and New Zealand at Christmas but otherwise the telling is by place not day or month. Each chapter begins with a small map pinpointing the places for this part of the trip.

Wheelan is an amusing, self-deprecating writer. Traveling together for nine months is not all roses and he doesn’t avoid telling about some of the less savory aspects. The whole clan suffers from motion sickness and no matter where you are, you can’t avoid germs. Aside from the gastric distress and colds, a flesh eating parasite also makes an appearance on Katrina’s foot and leg.

As with any family there will be squabbles and some disagreements. The author keeps a record of the trip in his journal. At the halfway point he has written: Countries: 8, Bus trips: 28, Flights: 13, Boat rides: 6, Jeep rides: 7, Horse rides: 2, Incidents of motion sickness: 7, Search parties looking for us: 2, Family meltdowns: 5, and Books read (by me): 25.

Whether it is museums, hikes, or diving, the squabbles and discomforts are woven into the grand adventure as we follow the family around the world. Wheelan is good at evoking the sense of a place whether it is a hike in the Amazon or drinking coffee at an outdoor café.

Some excursions were exciting – diving at the Great Barrier Reef, exploring a 7-level cave in the Rain Forest, visiting the Tiger’s Nest, a monastery in Bhutan and hunting for kiwi in New Zealand. Others were sobering – deforestation in Laos, the Vietnam Hanoi Hilton, a slave museum in Zanzibar and the Airbnb apartment they rented in Vienna. A small plaque, Stolpersteine (stumbling stone), stood in front of the building with the names of the Hofling family and the date, June 15, 1942, that the Nazis took them from their home.

This was an enjoyable journey to places many of us will never go. The author described many of the places and creatures he saw through his camera lens. I would have loved to see some of that wonder and beauty included as color photos but perhaps that would require another book.

Speaking of another book, Wheelan spent some of his travel time working on a novel. Finished by the end of their gap year trek, “The Rationing”, was published and you’ll find it at the library.

This family had a wish, then a goal and finally a plan. As Wheelan says “We pulled it off. We made it around the world: nine months, six continents, three teenagers and one flesh-eating parasite.”

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Historic Missouri Roadsides by Bill Hart

This book review is a celebration of sorts of both the Missouri Bicentennial (2021) and National Preservation Month, also known as Historic Preservation Month (May). In Historic Missouri Roadsides, author, historian, and preservationist Bill Hart takes us on a two-lane highway trip through several of Missouri’s small-town destinations, introducing us to, or reacquainting us with, what they have to offer.

Before taking us on the road, Hart breaks down the “how to” of using his book, pointing out that how long each trip takes to complete is, in fact, up to the traveler. Each stop along two-lane Missouri includes basic historical information about the place, suggestions for where to eat and stay, as well as for where to visit and what to do. Hart reminds us that these trips are meant to be leisurely rather than a race from point A to point B: “Chill. You’re not traveling on two lanes to win any races […].”

These adventures are arranged neatly into six road trips: Missouri Highway 79 / The River Road; El Camino Real; Route 100 / Gottfried Duden & the Lewis and Clark Trail; Osage Hills and Prairies; Mostly Route 24; and The Platte Purchase. Each tour begins with a summary about the trip and information about where, exactly, to start, and each town visited within a given tour clearly directs us to the next town. Although it is possible to reach some of these points using freeways, I recommend following Hart’s directions, as exploring what’s along our byways (rather than the sameness of our freeways) is the beauty of venturing out in the first place.

I feel a special kinship with this book as I start to travel about again. It’s a fantastic resource for those of us who wish to start by seeing what the places close to home have to show us. One of my favorite things about this title is that the largest city we’re guided through is St. Joseph, with a current population of about 73,400, give or take, whereas the smallest cities are only in the double digits.

Don’t get me wrong – I love visiting Kansas City, St. Louis, and other larger Missouri cities – but Missouri has much outside of those cities to show us. For example, a 1910 Beaux Arts-style post office in Nevada; the historic Hall of Waters in Excelsior Springs; a theatre in Blackwater, where productions written and directed by a local playwright are featured and locals serve free punch and cake during intermission; and landmark bluffs and other natural sites in tiny towns like Arrow Rock. We may even opt for additional “side trips” that take us into more remote areas of the State, such as Lithium, which, once upon a time, was a Victorian resort town.

Hart touches on the prehistory of Missouri, mentioning which Indian tribes traversed which areas before European American settlement, as well as tells the story of town names and sites that take their name from Native American and early European American history. He also makes mention of conservation areas, national register listings and districts, state parks and historic sites, persons of note, and more.

Not to mention the wonderful photographs, which enhance the stories of these lesser-known Missouri places. Check out the magnificent 1884 Second Empire Federal Courthouse on page 20, the picturesque view from the Fourche à Duclos Roadside Park on page 43, or the Old Dutch Hotel and Tavern’s neon sign in Washington on page 86.

It’s worth mentioning that two editions of this book are published and that the second edition is expanded to include “Destinations,” which are meant as stand-alone places to visit rather than a guided road trip. These destinations include St. Joseph, Glasgow, The Boonslick area, Fulton, Sedalia, and the Arcadia Valley.

As noted in his foreword, this book is “a travel book, a history book, a photography book, and more.” Indeed, it is all that and more. It is an opposition to what Hart describes as “Generica,” or the commodification of place and product. The fast-food chains and big-box stores found along our freeways and in our commercial districts, for example, all of which look the same regardless of locale. Hart encourages us to turn away from Generica for the uniqueness of “what lies right beneath [our] noses here in the Show-Me State.” Not only does he encourage us in this direction, but he literally tells us how to get there.

Happy trails and, as always, happy reading.

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101 Art Destinations in the U.S.: Where Art Lives Coast to Coast by Owen Phillips

This is an exciting book. Before discussing why, however, I’d like to give a shout out to Ridpath Club for providing this title in loving memory of their friend and former clubmate, Martha Fowles, who loved art and loved to travel. We’re happy to have the opportunity to share Ms. Fowles love of art and travel with our library patrons via this title.

101 Art Destinations in the U.S.: Where Art Lives Coast to Coast by Owen Phillips is a superb travel guide for anyone and everyone who cares about art. Admittedly, I briefly considered writing about something other than a travel guide for this review, in light of our current circumstances, but no doubt many of you, like me, are experiencing wanderlust. Plus, many of the destinations Phillips includes have a large online presence, so you can peruse digital collections and take virtual tours.

I appreciate that Phillips took a regional approach in the organization of this book: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Midwest, South Central, Mountain, Southwest, and Pacific Coast and Hawaii. Organizing the destinations regionally rather than by type or some other method seems the most thoughtful approach.

Within each region, the destinations are further arranged by state. Thus, the next time you’re visiting Aunt Sally in Texas (South Central region) or attending a conference in Utah (Mountain region), you can easily flip to that section of the book and explore art destinations in that area.

Phillips introduces each of his 101 entries with a beautiful, colorful photograph, either of the destination itself or one of its exhibits, the name and address of each location, a well-written brief history and description of each destination, and information about nearby points-of-interest.

For example, if you’re visiting the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY, you might stop by the nearby LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton to take in the sculpture gardens, which are comprised of pieces by Buckminster Fuller, Yoko Ono, de Kooning, and others.

Another pleasurable feature of this title is that it offers a variety of destinations, such as houses, memorials, museums, parks, studios, etc., as well as represents an array of types of visual art, such as architecture, ceramics, painting, public art, sculpture, and more.

In addition to being an expertly arranged art-destinations travel guide, this book is, to state it simply, fun. It’s the sort of book that you can read from cover-to-cover or just the sections pertinent to your travel plans. My favorite way to read it is to open it at random and explore whichever entry I’m presented with.

This read-at-random approach led me to The John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL, which began in the 1930s. Their collections are comprised of artworks from all eras and all continents, many of which can be viewed online at ringling.org.

To be honest, I cannot recommend this book enough. In fact, I’m acquiring a copy for my personal library. Not only it useful for traveling and armchair traveling alike, but it’s a nice conversation piece and an interesting coffee table book, if smaller than most.

Finally, I leave you with some of my favorite art destinations mentioned in the book that I highly recommend exploring online and, if possible, in person when they reopen: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR; the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, OK; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO; and The Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, OH.

Take care and, as always, happy reading.

Mildly Spooky Missouri

Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks by David E. Harkins

Missouri’s Haunted Route 66: Ghosts Along the Mother Road by Janice Tremeear

Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters by Jason Offutt

When it comes to all things horror, I readily admit that I am a first-class, Grade A chicken. My personal threshold of scary is so low it’s subterranean. Forget about Ghostbusters, and for pity’s sake please don’t bring up Gremlins after dark. Things are better than they used to be, though–I can now make it down (most) Halloween aisles in stores and enjoy neighborhood decorations. This is why I only mildly flinched when the library’s High School Book Club voted to read a paranormal title for October.

I found a trio of interestingly spooky-yet-mild-enough books of local and statewide interest to fit the bill. All three relate paranormal encounters or ghost stories from a variety of locations in the Ozarks or around Missouri–a combination of tales handed down, results of paranormal investigations, and the authors’ personal experiences. Depending upon the reader, the stories may register between mild to moderate on the spooky scale although there are a few that are significantly freaky. None of them are as spine chilling as Stephen King, but they aren’t meant to be.

Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks, part of the Haunted America series from The History Press, registers at “very mild”. It is a great place to start for the easily startled. More local history than anything, this title introduces a selection of historic cemeteries around the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks noted for their paranormal activity. Author David E. Harkins focuses on each cemetery’s background, only briefly describing his visit to each site and summarizing reports of ghostly encounters there. Of local interest, he includes Peace Church Cemetery in Joplin and the Spanish Fort Cemetery near Mount Vernon.  Harkins also includes an informative overview of Ozarks funeral customs and superstitions. Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks is great for quick bites of regional history or for readers with a low threshold of scary.

Sitting midway between the “mild” and “moderate” settings, Missouri’s Haunted Route 66: Ghosts Along the Mother Road blends more spookiness for a fun, quick travelogue. The book is divided into chapters traveling the Mother Road from St. Louis to Joplin with each entry providing some backstory and describing paranormal encounters at sites along the way. It’s a nice introduction to locations known for reported hauntings; although entries vary in length and detail, most are short and lend themselves well to reading in spurts or for use as a travel guide. Unlike the skeptical tone of Haunted Graveyards, author Janice Tremeear readily accepts otherworldly aspects of the subject relaying more stories and legends surrounding the sites without questioning their existence. As for haunted southwest Missouri, the usual suspects appear: Kendrick House in Carthage, Prosperity School, the former Freeman Hospital in Joplin, and the Spook Light at Hornet. Skip the local sites if you’re familiar with them. Otherwise, grab Missouri’s Haunted Route 66 for an enjoyable road trip.

Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters is firmly at “moderate” on the scale for me–likely less than that for everyone else. (I had to read this one only during daylight hours.) As freaky as it is spooky, the book is an intriguing compilation of ghostly, extraterrestrial, and Bigfoot stories (many based on the author’s personal experience) with a dash of medical oddity thrown in. Author Jason Offutt, a columnist and blogger chronicling the out-of-the-ordinary, relates encounters from sites around the state–some infamous, some less known–in an easygoing, conversational style. Offutt doesn’t assume anything about the reader and offers a helpful mini-glossary of key terms in the introduction. He also adds an appendix outlining his paranormal adventures in the state. In between these two resources are 43 weird and creepy tales. Reading them is like listening to your friends tell ghost stories around a campfire with a flashlight shining underneath their chins–it’s only a flashlight pointed upward, but the spooky shadows it creates significantly up the “eek” factor. See the sections “Red Eyes in the Darkness” (personally filed under “Why did he have to include a photo?”) and “Screams of the Alien” (Are you sure those are your sister’s roommates making those noises? Do you really want to stick around and find out?) for examples.

You can find these and oodles more eerie selections year-round at the library–you don’t have to wait for Halloween to try one. Happy haunting and happy reading!

Anthony Bourdain Remembered

Anthony Bourdain was important to a lot of people. There is no denying that his books and TV shows have influenced people to view life and the world in a different way. Each one of his works set out to paint an honest picture of the world, the people who live there and the food they consume. As famous as he was with talking about issues people faced in their particular countries, he also listened to what others had to say. When he died, it shook the world that he traveled.

“ANTHONY BOURDAIN REMEMBERED” was released by CNN as a way to honor his life and pay tribute to a special human being. It features pictures of his travels, as well as small paragraphs written by former colleagues, friends and the people he met during his adventures.

Because I am not famous enough to be featured in this book, I figured this review could be my way of saying thanks. In high school, I did not really know what I wanted to do with life. But when I started watching his shows, I felt an immediate connection. An episode of “No Reservations” left you feeling like you were along for the trip. For many of us, there is no chance of going where he went. I think he recognized that and sought to create a well-rounded show an hour at a time.

He taught me to not fall for tourist traps and figure out where the locals go. Because of Anthony Bourdain, I also started eating differently, trying new things — even made an effort to expand my palate.

I thought this book would be a quick read, but I soon realized that you should take your time with it. Each person who contributed expressed deep gratitude for him and his work. You can find contributions made by Darren Aronofsky, Jacques Pepin, Iggy Pop, Barack Obama and many more. The photographs show a moment in time of a man who just wanted to move from place to place and experience the world as others do.

Most of the pictures show him beside food of some sort. He understood the significance of food and those you eat it with. By eating a country’s native dishes you get a sense of the history and culture behind it. Anthony Bourdain said: “Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.”

If you are interested in reading some of Anthony Bourdain’s other books, the library has several of them in print and ebook format, including “Kitchen Confidential,” “Medium Raw,” “A Cook’s Tour” and “The Nasty Bits.” In the near future, I will purchase one of his “No Reservations” DVD collections to donate it to the library. The mark he left on the world should never be forgotten. With “Anthony Bourdain Remembered,” CNN did an incredible job at providing a snapshot of his life and making sure that his legacy will be remembered.

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Teen Non-Fiction Conversation Starters–Raggin’, Jazzin’, Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke and Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols & More by Gianni Simone

Raggin’, Jazzin’, Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke

Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols & More by Gianni Simone

It’s August?  I can’t believe it’s here already!  Summer reading just ended–it can’t be time for school to start.  I’m in utter denial. I have yet to flip my office wall calendar; Pusheen will just have to eat ice cream in July for a while.  At least there’s been time to sneak in a read or two before things are in full swing.

These titles have been interesting reading.  They’re a duo of teen(ish) non-fiction full of opportunities for starting conversations between teens and adults–something different than familiar, heavy duty topics of life choices.  Whether you’re a teen or a teen-adjacent adult, there’s something here for you.

If you’re a fan of anime or manga or have wondered what all the fuss was about, then try Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols & More by Gianni Simone.  Although housed in adult non-fiction, this title has plenty of teen appeal.  It’s also a fascinating glimpse into aspects of Japanese pop culture with a massive U.S. teen fan base.  First and foremost, the book is a travel guide to hotbeds of otaku (superfans of anime, manga, and related subjects) culture in and around Tokyo.  Even if you’re unlikely to travel to Tokyo, this is a great vehicle for daydreaming or planning a virtual trip. Tokyo Geek’s Guide offers vibrant colors and fun-yet-pleasing fonts across an engaging layout.  It’s chock full of interesting information with plenty of maps and photos. It includes explanation of the different aspects of otaku culture for those who want it–more familiar readers can jump right into the book which is arranged by neighborhood.  Various features highlight how to use the book, special activities and locations, and travel tips. There is a helpful glossary for newbies. Full of engaging content and aesthetic appeal, give this title to teens with an interest in anime, manga, cosplay, or Japan as well as to adults curious about otaku culture or with an interest in travel.  Whether you’re navigating a teen fandom or introducing your parents to your obsession, there’s plenty to chat about.

At first glance, Raggin’, Jazzin’, Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke is not an obvious choice for a teen audience.  Yet, it surprises readers with a lively, colorful approach to a potentially dry subject.  Both the text and layout are geared for middle school readers, but the book can still offer something to high schoolers.  You can discover the stories of a handful of famous instrument makers and their creations from Steinway pianos and Hammond organs to Fender and Martin guitars.  Band students will recognize Conn trumpets and Ludwig drums and Zildjian cymbals. Lots of engaging, creative illustrations catch the eye–photos of the makers and of musicians, historic ads, cutaways and patent drawings of the instruments.  There is plenty to see here as well as read. The well-researched text won’t set the world on fire, but it’s solid and could spark an interest. Above all, this title is a great tool for connecting adults and teens. Grab the book and head to YouTube to explore the instruments, the makers, and the music.  (We fell down a Moog synthesizer rabbit hole at a recent teen activity and wound up making electronic music with Garage Band.) Or, share cuts from your respective music collections. It’s fantastic for fostering those wonderful, rambling conversations–conversations seemingly about nothing yet really about everything important.  Give this book to middle schoolers or reluctant readers with an interest in music or history or to adults looking for a quick read on the topic.

Speaking of music, it was this year’s summer reading theme and great fun.  Teens and adults have one last opportunity to rock the library and wrap up summer reading for grades 6 and up.  Join us this Tuesday, August 7, at 7:30 pm in the Joplin Public Library Community Room for a wizard rock concert with nationally-known band Tonks and the Aurors with Lauren Fairweather, founder of the Moaning Myrtles.  Wizard rock consists of rock music with lyrics set in the Harry Potter universe. There will also be a writing workshop with Wizards in Space literary magazine an hour before the concert. These programs are free and open to teens and adults.  Neither registration nor summer reading participation is required. Questions? Call the library’s Teen Office at 417-623-7953, ext. 1027, or email teen@joplinpubliclibrary.org   See you at the concert!

Find in catalog–here and here.