In My Hands Today…

The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze & Back in Chinese Time – Simon Winchester

25015Rising in the mountains of the Tibetan border, the Yangtze River, the symbolic heart of China pierces 3,900 miles of rugged country before debouching into the oily swells of the East China Sea. Connecting China’s heartland cities with the volatile coastal giant, Shanghai, it has also historically connected China to the outside world through its nearly one thousand miles of navigable waters. To travel those waters is to travel back in history, to sense the soul of China, and Simon Winchester takes us along with him as he encounters the essence of China–its history and politics, its geography and climate as well as engage in its culture, and its people in remote and almost inaccessible places.

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In My Hands Today…

Neither East Nor West: One Woman’s Journey Through the Islamic Republic of Iran
 – Christiane Bird

161533Fusing travelogue, historical inquiry, and interviews with Iranians from all walks of life, Neither East Nor West is a landmark contribution to travel writing and to cultural studies, as well as a timely illumination of a nation deeply misunderstood by most Westerners.

In describing life in Iran today, Christiane Bird, an American who spent part of her childhood there, breaks the silence that has surrounded Iran’s culture — unlike its politics — for nearly twenty years.

Travelling alone and largely by bus, Bird journeys from the modern, bustling capital of Tehran to the medieval holy city of Qom, from the sacred pilgrimage site of Mashhad — visited by more than twelve million Shi’ites annually — to the isolated valley of Alamut, once home to the legendary cult of the Assassins.

She visits mosques, public baths, Khomeini’s former home, and a Caspian Sea resort, and attends prayer meetings and a horse racing meet. Along the way, she talks to muleteers and ayatollahs, Kurds and Turkomans, Westernized and traditional Iranians — many of whom invited her home for a cup of tea.

The result is an astounding, insightful journey into the Islamic Republic of Iran — in all its beauty, ferocity, and contradiction.

In My Hands Today…

Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore – Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh

16041097What happens when a country splits apart? Forty-five years ago, Singapore separated from Malaysia. Since then, the two countries have developed along their own paths. Malaysia has given preference to the majority of Malay Muslims – the Bumiputera, or sons of the soil. Singapore, meanwhile, has tried to build a meritocracy – ostensibly color-blind, yet more encouraging perhaps to some Singaporeans than to others. How have these policies affected ordinary people? How do these two divergent nations and their peoples now see each other and the world around them?

In My Hands Today…

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

28After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson – bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to return to the United States. (“I had recently read,” Bryson writes, “that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”) But before departing, he set out on a grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile.

In My Hands Today…

Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth – Albert Podell

22545459This is the inspiring story of an ordinary guy who achieved two great goals that others had told him were impossible. First, he set a record for the longest automobile journey ever made around the world, during the course of which he blasted his way out of minefields, survived a serious accident atop the Peak of Death, came within seconds of being lynched in Pakistan, and lost three of the five men who started with him, two to disease, one to the Vietcong.

After that, although it took him forty-seven more years-Albert Podell set another record by going to every country on Earth. He achieved this by surviving riots, revolutions, civil wars, trigger-happy child soldiers, voodoo priests, robbers, pickpockets, corrupt cops, and Cape buffalo. He went around, under, or through every kind of earthquake, cyclone, tsunami, volcanic eruption, snowstorm, and sandstorm that nature threw at him. He ate everything from old camel meat and rats to dung beetles and the brain of a live monkey. And he overcame attacks by crocodiles, hippos, anacondas, giant leeches, flying crabs and several beautiful girlfriends who insisted that he stop this nonsense and marry them.

In My Hands Today…

Last Seen in Lhasa: The story of an extraordinary friendship in modern Tibet – Claire Scobie

1282802Some go to Tibet seeking inspiration, others for adventure. The award-winning journalist, Claire Scobie, found both when she left her ordinary life in London and went to the Himalayas in search of a rare red lily. Her journey took her to Pemako, where few Westerners have set foot and where the myth of Shangri-la was born. It was here she became friends with Ani, an unusual Tibetan nun who was to change her life.

Through seven journeys in Tibet, Claire chronicles a rapidly changing world — where monks talk on mobiles and Lhasa’s sex industry thrives. But it is Ani, a penniless wanderer with a rich heart, who leaves an indelible impression. Together, in a culture where freedom of expression is forbidden, they risk arrest. And they forge an abiding friendship, based on intuition and deep respect.

In My Hands Today…

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World – Rita Golden Gelman

85622Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence. At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world.

In 1986 she sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in a Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces. She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world. Rita’s example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults.