Books About Place

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Great Books about place and culture, not necessarily travel books:

About the (comparatively) empty Dakotas, and the small towns where people hang on (sometimes their own worst enemies) while the modern world rushes by without them. Norris, a poet, and her husband returned to South Dakota, where she had spent part of her childhood, to take over her grandmother's home when no one else in the family wanted it. She explores the contradictory nature of the people there, and finds meaning and solace in the landscape, work in the schools as a traveling language arts instructor, her small church community and the nearby Benedictine monastery.
  • Kabloona by Gontran de Poncins
Poncins, a world weary Frenchman of aristocratic lineage, small means, no particular vocation, and an interest in primitive cultures, went on a 15 month journey into the Canadian Artic in 1938, living with the native Inuits for nearly a year there. "Kabloona" means white man in Inuit; Poncins sought to understand the "Eskimo mentality" and "stone age mind" and while completely submersed in this entirely alien setting to possibly find himself. Read this one on a January evening in front of the fire.
Eric Weiner, a NPR correspondent traveled to the happiest (and the most unhappy) places on earth,to see what makes the people so happy. He went to some unexpected places like Bhutan, where happiness is a policy, and Iceland, where it's okay to fail. The most unhappy places on earth? Well, Iraq and Africa, for obvious reasons. But Moldova, the former Soviet Republic, where citizens don't help each other out and constant complaining is a way of life, wins the prize. Here are some conclusions: money matters, but not as much as you might think. Family and friends are very important. Envy is toxic, as is excessive thinking. Trust and gratitude are necessary. A very interesting book.