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Mid-Summer Reading Guide

Still time to escape in a good book

     With half of summer stretching before you, there’s still time to get lost in a good book.
    Armchair travelers stretch our confined worlds with books that take us places we’ll probably never see on our own. Certainly not with the open-eye and open-heart clarity of the ­writers we love best.
    Tell us about a book that’s transported you to a world outside your time and space. That was my request to a couple dozen journalists, librarians, novelists and poets. They did, and here you’ll discover their recommendations for books, both fact and fiction, whose spell lasts a few vicarious hours — or a lifetime.
    Picks stretch in composition from 1896 to 2014. In inspiration back to the seventh century. In political era from the Tang Dynasty to Hitler’s Third Reich. In space all around this world and into others only imagined.
    You’ll find some here to move you, I bet, to who knows where.


Bel Canto (Ann Patchett: 2001)
Saving Fish from Drowning (Amy Tan: 2005)
The Orchid Thief (Susan Orlean: 1998)
     When I’m itching to travel and can’t get away, I look for a book to drop me into a place where I can meet interesting people, enjoy a change of scenery and learn something new. Three favorite books that do all these also involve traveling.
    In Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning, I got lost along with American tourists in the Burmese jungle and met a tribe of ragged natives hiding from the brutal military regime.
    In Ann Patchett’s frightening and beautiful Bel Canto, I found myself on an unexpected journey when terrorists invade a party in an unnamed South American country and take 200 guests hostage. During a four-month standoff with authorities waiting outside, music transports partiers and gunmen to a world of friendship, compassion and love.
    Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, set in Florida, introduced me to fanatical orchid collectors, Seminole Indians, environmentalists, real estate scammers and other quirky inhabitants of the Sunshine State. Orlean’s research on the exotic flowers also took me to South America and Asia, where I faced jaguars, tigers, and headhunters. As there are some places that deserve a return trip, these are books I want to visit again.

Marilyn Recknor, of Arnold, is a Bay Weekly ­contributor and writer of children’s literature

The Country of the Pointed Firs (Sarah Orne Jewett: 1896)
     Journey to a small coastal Maine town in the late 1800s where previously robust maritime trades are in decline but characters of substance define everyday life: the sturdy herbalist Mrs. Todd, the popular self-reliant Mrs. Blackett of Green Island, the mysterious self-exiled Joanna, the shy hard-working William, the humble erudite Captain Littlepage. Each chapter ushers us into another corner of their world via Jewett’s exquisite prose. Savor her vignettes as you would the ocean itself, sensually and completely.

Dotty Holcomb Doherty of Annapolis is a poet, ­outdoorswoman and Bay Weekly contributor

A Discovery of Witches (Deborah Harkness: 2011)
     This was one of the first books I read on a Kindle (in 2011), and I had no idea it was ending until it stopped suddenly. I’d been so engaged in the story that I wasn’t paying attention to the percentage remaining. Turns out A Discovery of Witches was the first installment in the All Souls Trilogy. The final book, The Book of Life, has just been published. Discovery centers on Diana Bishop, a scholar studying at Oxford. All her life she has tried to keep magic at bay, but while working in the Bodleian Library she calls up a manuscript that no one has seen in ages. The manuscript is thought to contain the history of the species: humans, witches, vampires and deamons. Diana must embrace her power as the descendant of ­witches as she embarks on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. As she ends up in a relationship with a vampire geneticist, you are transported to another world.
    Harkness, a history professor, is a brilliant writer. There’s just time to read the trilogy if you can cordon off the last bit of summer and shut everything else out.

Carrie Plymire of Scientists Cliffs is director of Calvert Library

The Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde: 2001)

Ever wish your world were a little more literary?
    In the streets of an alternate universe London, gangs of Baconians and Shakespearians war over who wrote the works of The Bard. Byronic forgers are the most hunted criminals in the city. Cloning has made Dodo birds the trendy new pet, and time travel has become a carefully regulated government tool.
    Keeping the literary world safe is Special Operative Thursday Next, who works for the government finding forgers and stopping nefarious time travelers. When Thursday’s former professor, Acheron Hades, steals a Prose Portal, a device that allows the user to enter a book, the whole of London is aghast because any changes you make while in the book alter all printed versions. Hades enters the most popular book of the time, Jane Eyre, and kidnaps the heroine, threatening to kill her and ruin the book if his demands aren’t met. Thursday must chase her quarry through time, space and some classic English literature to save the day.
    A fusion of Monty Python silliness and acerbic literary humor, The Eyre Affair is the sci-fi book every literature snob should read — though you don’t need a master’s in English literature to enjoy the travails of Thursday Next.

Diana Beechener of Pasadena is Bay Weekly’s Movie-Goer and a former staff writer

The Great Degeneration (Niall Ferguson: 2013)
     I met Niall recently at the wake of one of my best friends. We had a spirited conversation about current events fueled by way too many toasts to the departed. Only later did I discover that he was a Harvard professor of history and a celebrated author.
    Out of curiosity I purchased one of his recent tomes, The Great Degeneration, and was immediately absorbed by an easily understood analysis of our current world and the ebbs and flows of institutions, nations and economies.
    If you’ve a yen to put some sense to our era’s maelstrom of national and international crises, try it. The Great Degeneration is mesmerizing and revealing, not to mention a particularly comfortable read.

Dennis Doyle, Bay Weekly’s Sporting Life columnist, of Cape St. Claire, is as avid a reader as fisherman

The Geography of Bliss (Eric Weiner: 2008)
Eric Weiner travels around the world in search of the happiest places. Are people happiest in freezing Iceland, busy India, chocolate-filled Switzerland, oil-rich Qatar or their own back yard in the United States? And what makes them happy? Weiner’s travelogue style of writing, punctuated with theories of positive psychology, makes each country’s description more than just an interesting person or a beautiful place. By asking the simple question Are you happy?, Weiner opens the door to each country’s ethos, shared by those who live there.

Emily Myron, a St. Mary’s College grad with a Duke master’s in environmental management, commutes from D.C. to the Chesapeake Conservancy and ­contributes to Bay Weekly

Han Solo at Star’s End (Brian Daley: 1979)
     Han Solo at Star’s End was responsible for sending my life in a direction I couldn’t have imagined. At Balticon XIII, the handsome guy sitting in front of me turned and asked if I’d read it. I replied I didn’t read movie spin-offs (I was young and stupid then). His editor’s wife turned around and said, “He wrote it.” Brian, as it turned out, was very much like the hero in his three Han Solo books. Along with the fun and adventure of knowing (and marrying) him, I got a book contract and a new career.

Lucia St. Claire Robson of Annapolis is the author of nine historical novels, from Japan to Mexico to the early America of natives and settlers

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien: 1937)
     If you like long adventure stories, mystical lands and interesting creatures, The Hobbit, by celebrated 20th-century author J.R.R. Tolkien, will satisfy your literary appetite. Hobbits are about “half our height” and quite unadventurous by the standards of Tolkien’s made-up land, Middle Earth. In our story, Bilbo Baggins, a well-to-do hobbit living under a hill, gets swept into a quest led by the wizard Gandalf and 12 mischievous dwarves to save long-lost treasures from an infamous dragon named Smaug. The journey to the Lonely Mountain is filled with goblins, mines, angry trolls, elfin castles and a destiny to save the precious gold and possessions of past dwarf kings.
    Once you’ve finished The Hobbit, the fun’s not over yet; check out Tolkien’s follow-up series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Storrie Kulynych-Irvin, nine-year-old triathlete and home-schooled Annapolitan, is Bay Weekly’s youngest contributing writer

Judge Dee at Work (Robert Van Gulik: 1967)
     A book that’s transported me is eight tales based on tribunal cases by real life Dee Jen-dijeh. Set in the Tang Dynasty, Van Gulik’s novel uses the distinctive style of traditional Chinese detective fiction, which involves three converging — and often unrelated — mysteries. The collection opens with Five Auspicious Clouds — set in the year 663, when Judge Dee is one week into his appointment as magistrate of Peng-lai, a remote coastal district of the Chinese Empire — and closes 11 years later with Murder on New Year’s Eve.

Richard Due, owner of Second Look Books, Prince Frederick, is a fantasy author

Life in Double Time: Confessions of an American Drummer (Mike Lankford: 1997)