Escapism: A Reading List from Open Book Night
In the corner room at Mid-Manhattan, appropriately surrounded by the travel guide collection, we spent our June Open Book Night sharing books that help us escape. One might think of a book to escape with as a beach read, something that takes your mind easily to another place, or an adventure story in a faraway land. We conjured up the fantastical, the humorous and the literal in our book selection on escapism.
Open Book Night meets at the Mid-Manhattan Library on the second Friday evening of the month from 6 to 7 PM. We’d love to hear your book recommendations in person at our next gathering on Friday, July 8, for SUMMER IN THE CITY! What books do you think of when summer comes to New York? Is there a quintessential summer in the city book? Or perhaps a book that evokes summer in another city for you? Or a book that helps you survive summer in the city? Please add your suggestions to this reading list.
Cecil began our reverie with possibly a perfect beach read escape, Blue by Danielle Steel. A great lover of the author, Cecil felt this title especially fit our theme. The story works as a metaphor for what people escape from, as the main character has lost her son and husband in an accident and remakes her life with a younger (blue-eyed) man.
Dan Brown’s Inferno came next as another page-turner of escapism, keeping a reader immersed for three solid days with the Italian landscape and culture.
The world of fantasy and children’s books had many of our readers escaping to their memories. The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales edited by Alison Lurie brought Misa back to her childhood, with the first story, Uncle David’s Nonsensical Story about Giants and Fairies by Catherine Sinclair being among her favorites. She told us that it is "an esoteric and wide-ranging history of children's stories, chronological in age appropriateness." Harriet the Spy was mentioned in our nostalgia, as well as Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theater, Brandy as Cinderella, and Hans Christian Andersen’s ability to enchant. Dune by Frank Herbert, had us remembering how to escape from water shortage and giant sand worms.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was reread recently and when our reader remembered it from middle school and wanted to escape back to her early teenage years. The intricate story and wordplay were made more imaginative by the copy she had found at a used bookstore. In her copy, all the male references had been crossed out in pencil and rewritten as female references. For example, great-great grandfather, George Washington, became great-great grandmother, Abigail Adams. Priyanka says she "read a little bit every Sunday morning. The worlds that Juster creates are so intricate and playful that it was fun to get lost in it as an adult! The word play is phenomenal and incredibly intelligent, and there are even some illustrations to enjoy."
The Riverman by Aaron Starmer is a children’s fantasy series that complicates the idea of escape through literature by confusing reality and fiction in the mind of a girl who is afraid the Riverman will take her soul. Emma found that "Starmer's world-building pulls you in from the start, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, and crossing over multiple genres to create a memorable middle-grade read."
This mysterious fantasy brought us to crime and suspense novels with interesting detectives and vivid international settings, Elizabeth's favorite escapist reading. She brought a selection of first in series novels that happened to be on the shelf, including Louise Penny's lyrical Still Life, the first Inspector Gamache book set Quebec; the suspenseful Zoo Station by David Downing, which introduces John Russell, a British journalist living in Berlin in 1939; and The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill, set in 1970s Laos and featuring the wise, funny, and humane Dr. Siri Paiboun, appointed national coroner at age 72. You can find more of Elizabeth's favorite international detectives in this blog post.
A literal escape to nature took us to Hiking the Road to Ruins by David Steinberg. The physical movement away from the city into the woods was met with a variety escape stories and memories from our group. Cabin Porn: Inspiration for your Quiet Place Somewhere showed us the amazing places we could retreat to while out of town or to fantasize about building as a hideaway from the city.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon took one reader on an escape through humor. The adventures and escapades that a mathematically gifted 15-year old boy takes in the city helped our reader empathize with the protagonist’s view of life that created laugh-out-loud moments while reading. The Sherlock Holmes novel that the title is taken from (Silver Blaze by Arthur Conan Doyle, read it online here) also gave us a lively discussion thread. The lines Mark Haddon’s book title comes from in Silver Blaze read as follows:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
The Invisible Thread: the True Story of an 11-year-old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny had Anton escaping into his memory of meeting a boy begging for change in Midtown in the 1950s and buying him a slice of pizza. The life of this boy was written about by Laura Schroff who subsequently came to talk about the book at the library at Anton’s suggestion.
For further reading, the folks at Flavorwire, a cultural news and critique site, put together this great list of 25 escapist novels. It includes Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a great travelling companion.
Thank you to all the readers who joined us at Open Book Night, those who recommended books and those who preferred to listen to the recommendations of fellow readers! If you love to talk about books, we hope to see you soon at one of our Open Book Nights. In the meantime, happy reading!
Upcoming Open Book Nights
- July 8, 2016 - Summer in the City
- August 12, 2016 - World Literature
- September 9, 2016 - Game Changers
Past Open Book Nights
Click to see the list of books discussed.
- February 13, 2015 - Love
- April 10, 2015 - New Beginnings
- May 8, 2015 - Nature
- June 12, 2015 - Sports
- June 26, 2015 - Open theme
- July 10, 2015 - Open theme
- August 14, 2015 - Travel
- September 11, 2015 - New York
- October 9, 2015 - The Occult
- November 13, 2015 - Thanksgiving
- December 11, 2015 - Food and cooking
- January 9, 2016 - In With the New!
- February 25, 2016 - Love Makes the World Go 'Round
- March 11, 2016 - Women in Print
- April 8, 2016 - Feeling Healthy
- May 13, 2016 - The Natural World