Hops and Skips

Wanderlust Readers: Armchair Travel in Spring 2023

Our Wanderlust Readers book club has grown over the last four months. What began as Instagram Live-streamed conversations between Erin and myself has expanded into legitimate monthly meetings with others in attendance! 

Destination picks are shared on the first day of every month, and we end the month with a virtual discussion. It’s low key with an easygoing vibe, and we end every meeting with new books added to our own piles. Check out my #iamawanderlustreader posts on Instagram to get involved – we’d love for you to join!

Here are the stories I discovered during the first part of the year:

January | KENYA

Africa was the next continent we wanted to visit, and one participant had been to Kenya; it’s a bonus, a bigger motivator, if a person has actually been to a place on our list, because we want to hear those first-person experiences.

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

I had a large stack of options I’d requested from the library, and in the end, none of them were right for the moment; I went with a moderate-length selection from an acclaimed modern author that I could get instantly from Overdrive. In the opening chapter, a young man is gunned down in the streets of Nairobi. The rest of the novel slowly reveals how it got there by encircling this one figure and revealing the clutter of history and politics that define the environment and circumstance of the Oganda family. The writing is poetic; there’s an undercurrent of grief that weighs on the whole narrative, though I wouldn’t consider it a hard or painful book to read. It jumps through time, illuminating long-ago secrets and situations that continue to simmer and wield an influence without even an awareness of their existence. A satisfying reading experience.

February | FRANCE

We leaned into the cliché of romance for the month of February and headed to city (and its country) of love.

Exposed by Jean-Philippe Blondel

I have an ample collection of travel writing based in France, but I wanted a narrative from an actual French voice. I ran across this short novel in a list of translated contemporary fiction; it’s about a retiring teacher who is invited to an art opening by a former student who has become a well known painter. It’s an unexpected and somewhat peculiar reunion, and the two develop a queer sort of friendship. To some degree, this relationship feels unsettling and you’re waiting for the ball to drop. But to deem it insidious would be to categorize this story unfairly. It’s not as dramatic as that – though there are two characters involved, the focus is on the elder, and the plot is more a catalyst of meditation on self, age, life experiences, and choices. Short and meditative.

March | JAPAN

Asia was the next continent on our list, and everyone felt an intrigue towards Japan. It was also a country where someone (me!) has personal experience to add to the conversation.

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations by Pico Iyer

As I scoured lists of contemporary Japanese literature, I discovered that I’ve actually read a fair number of notable titles in recent years, so I dug deeper to gather an eclectic, diverse group of options. Of these finds, A Beginner’s Guide was one I’d seen often on shelves and displays of well-curated book stores. It was short, so I started there. The author is not Japanese but is an acclaimed writer who married in and has lived in Japan for 30 years. It’s not a narrative; instead, it’s tidbits of musings and observations on the culture and perspective that, despite his 30 years, still elude him. They’re not all positive, though the author’s tone respectfully remains neutral. In our discussion, participants asked if I witnessed any of the things the author noted in this book. Maybe I’d seen an inkling of some, and I remember ending that trip with my own list of observations. I get the sense Japan is a very tough nut to crack as an outsider; this fascinating collection of musings may help some. 

April | AUSTRALIA

We needed to check off the last continent we hadn’t yet read (our own not included), and it was pretty much between Australia or New Zealand. Australia won.

Blueback by Tim Winton

It was harder for me to determine which direction I wanted to go in a literary exploration of Australia. Much of its history is younger, like ours; and also like ours, its pre-European history is underrepresented by voices in literature. Again, I went contemporary [I think this is my theme] with a novella by an author from the country’s western coast. This short narrative follows a boy named Abel as he grows up on the rural coast where his life revolves around the sea. He and his mother fish and collect abalone; during one dive of his early youth, he encounters a large, playful groper that he befriends. Abel names him Blueback, and the fish becomes a buoy he clings to as he grows up. It’s a simply told story, but I absolutely adored it. It’s life-affirming and so sweet without being saccharine. I bought my own copy to re-read when I need some positivity, and I want to read it aloud to my own kids one day. Such a great surprise find!

Share the Post: