Summer Book Bingo: The Expatriate Packing List
July 25, 2017
Summer Book Bingo is designed to provide free summer reading fun for both adults and kids. Last summer, participants read a total of 8717 books, and we received a whopping 248 blackout cards and 227 bingo cards—let’s do it again! Swing by one of SAL’s partner bookstores this year to grab an Adult or Kid Bingo Card or download it here and spend the summer of ’17 reading great books.
In this guest post from Julia Cook, local writer and long-time bingo savant, she encourages us to pack our bags and head to another country—mentally, at least—with five recommendations for your “Set in Another Country” square. Julia told us: “All of them either made me cry or think, ‘This writer’s a genius.’ I’ll let you guess which was which”. . .
By Julia Cook
No one sees you clearer than a stranger in a strange land. That’s the hope, at least, when a writer packs his bags, secures the visa, and memorizes a new set of metro stations. It’s the hope that among others one can come closer to his or her truest self. Each of these novels follows an expatriate who’s embraced the unfamiliar, for better or for worse, and shared a little that they’ve learned. With the Set in Another Country square, you too can cross boundaries without ever checking Google Flights. Just make sure you’ve packed an open mind.
The American by Henry James
Decades before Fitzgeralds and Hemingways buzzed along the Riviera, Henry James was watching his country embarrass herself from across the pond. Financial panic, Manifest Destiny, and one ill-fated conquest of Cuba all passed through his periphery, unfolding on the page in characters designed to draw empathy, even as they gravely failed themselves. Christopher Newman is a textbook Yankee: a strapping, successful businessman, somewhat aloof to politics, he tours Europe thinking he might as well find some culture, since he has everything else already. He drifts in and out of museums, not sure what he wants to find, until he meets a woman who shatters all perceptions. As he stumbles through hoops to earn her hand, Newman will discover that respect cannot be owed or earned, it must be freely given.
The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
A story that feels strange from flashback to postscript, The Wallcreeper follows two newlyweds who probably shouldn’t have as they embrace the lives of activists in present-day Germany. Stephen is a pharmaceutical researcher and occasional birdwatcher packing in passion what he lacks in personality. Tiffany, at 25, seems through with him but finds the prospects of work (she’s living off his paycheck) or moving home (and his visa) exhausting. Zink applies lofty prose to unsavory situations, making this novella feel like a joke your great uncle shouldn’t have told you. But it’s still worth the read, if only for its stellar opening line and one shockingly apt description of Tukwila.
Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika
Another novella in conversational vignettes, Manyika’s is a story of aging gracefully, even as your city would phase you out. Manyika’s San Francisco, much like Armistead Maupin’s in Tales From the City, is one flummoxed with change: new neighbors, gentrification and the demands of political correctness all conspire (and continually fail) to disrupt her narrator, a septuagenarian Nigerian woman named Morayo with a sweet tooth and an inexhaustible desire for connection. Told partially through the eyes of her acquaintances and neighbors, readers will find a remarkably adjusted woman brimming with stories, who continues to build a trove of pleasures, laughing at those who would take them away.
Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul
Within three continents, three men, and three very similar narratives, Naipaul weaves a common theme of isolation, of loneliness so reluctant it nonetheless shows in his characters’ faces, in the words they use to banish it. In “One out of Many” a servant from India follows his master to the U.S. chasing fortune and personal betterment. Humorous missteps—a vibrant suit and a sexual encounter—give way to the personal trauma of being both illegal immigrant and virtual slave. “Tell Me Who To Kill” is the story of a mistreated elder brother as he struggles to support his family in food service. And finally “In a Free State” shows acquaintances Bobby and Linda on a road trip from safety to violent unrest. A twice-removed expatriate himself, Naipaul writes with the conviction of an eyewitness—creating feeling outside the throes of sentiment.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
For anyone who’s embraced the meaning in shoving off for the summer, Cusk brings us a journey equal parts momentous and mundane. Her narrator—mostly unnamed—repeats the stories of all who engage her, feeding the reader hints of herself along the way. She’s balancing a teaching trip to Greece with an impending divorce back home, but remains fully present to her interlocutors. Her silence builds their trust, no doubt a stinging commentary on a trait that transcends place. Deep inside we all think we’re the Most Interesting Man In the World, waiting for someone to draw us out. It’s a genius approach that makes you wonder what of yourself you’re presenting to the world, and whether (or not) you’d like to see it.
Julia Cook is a three-time blackout boarder in SAL’s Summer Book Bingo, though her high school reading list is still marked ‘incomplete.’ Pitching her favorite publications with a similar fervor, she’s found success with The Stranger, Bitter Southerner, and Pittsburgh City Paper, but not GQ… yet. Check out her other book notes for SAL, including a webcomic, an actor’s process, and this ode to our National Parks.