STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is the time of the year when many people don't get a chance to travel or go on vacation. You're stuck at work. You're stuck at school. But you still have an opportunity to travel this morning with our librarian, Nancy Pearl, who joins us once again.

Hi, Nancy.

Dr. NANCY PEARL (Librarian, NancyPearl.com): Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you've sent me a stack of travel books, books with authors that take us different places, beginning with something called "Into Thick Air" by Jim Malusa.

Dr. PEARL: Well, Jim Malusa is a geologist who specializes in ethno-botany in Arizona. So you wouldn't think that he would be the go-to guy if you're talking about bicycle trips.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. PEARL: But he has written this book about - over six different summers, he's traveled to the lowest places in six different continents.

INSKEEP: We're kind of playing off John Krakauer's "Into Thin Air..."

Dr. PEARL: Yes, exactly...

INSKEEP: ...about Mt. Everest. Now, he's going as low as he can go.

Dr. PEARL: He's going as low as he can go.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Dr. PEARL: And this is every place Djibouti, around the Horn of Africa, to Cairo and the Dead Sea. And there's a wonderful part where he bicycles to Lake Eyre in Australia. And you really get a feeling for those different places and the dangers that he goes through, from big insects to the possibility of landmines in Africa. And Russia - oh, my gosh, the Russian section's absolutely great.

INSKEEP: What do you learn about the world at or below sea level that you couldn't learn at 2,000 feet above?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. PEARL: You learn just how hard the bike ride - maybe not getting there -is, but coming back up.

INSKEEP: Well, let's go back up to another book here. You mentioned that one of his stops was in Africa, so let's stay in Africa for a moment: "Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town" by Paul Theroux.

Dr. PEARL: This is an older title of Paul's, and it's...

INSKEEP: It's nonfiction. He's actually taken this trip. OK.

Dr. PEARL: It's nonfiction. He's actually taking this trip. And he travels by nearly any kind of conveyance that you can think: cars, trucks, dugout canoes, ferries, buses. And he talks to everybody.

And sometimes in some of Paul Theroux's books, he is very grumpy and kind of petulant. But in this book, he's gotten over some of that. So I think we're getting him at his best here. And there's a wonderful, wonderful quote where he says: "I was heading south in my usual traveling mood, hoping for the picturesque, expecting misery, braced for appalling. Happiness was unthinkable, for although happiness is desirable, it is a banal subject for travel."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. PEARL: "Therefore, Africa seemed perfect for a long journey."

INSKEEP: There you go.

Dr. PEARL: It's a fabulous book, just a delight to read. And if you're not going to Africa anytime soon and want to get a good experience of it, this is the book to choose.

INSKEEP: Well, let's move on here. We've got a book. This is a children's book, "Adele and Simon." Am I saying that correctly?

Dr. PEARL: You are. You are. And it's an absolutely wonderful children's book. And it's the story of a brother and sister. And when Adele goes to pick up her younger brother Simon from school, he starts out coming home with his hat and gloves and scarf and sweater and coat and knapsack and books and crayon and a drawing of a cat that he did this morning. But as their walk home progresses and they stop at various places, Simon gradually loses every single thing that he has taken from school.

The illustrations are fabulous. They're just intricate pen-and-ink drawings filled in with very, very light watercolors.

So if you're taking a youngish child, I would say between five and seven -although I'm not sure why you would - to Paris, this is a book to introduce the city to them. But it's also great, I think, for adults to get a sense of the City of Light.

INSKEEP: Can I mention also that these drawings portray Paris in the autumn? Just beautiful autumn leaves everywhere, parks and trees changing colors.

Dr. PEARL: Yes.

INSKEEP: It's just a beautiful thing to think about in October.

Dr. PEARL: Yes.

INSKEEP: You have also sent us - I'm not sure Parisians will like this very much.

Dr. PEARL: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. PEARL: Not a happy book.

INSKEEP: But you brought along two books here about Berlin - not one, but two by the same author, Jason Lute's "Berlin: City of Stones," "Berlin: City of Smoke." What's going on here?

Dr. PEARL: These are graphic novels, and they tell the history of Berlin during the end of the Weimar Republic.

INSKEEP: 1920s.

Dr. PEARL: Right, late 1920s. And "City of Stones" is - takes place in 1928 and 1929. And it's not a period that I was familiar with. And so us seeing World War II on the horizon, when the characters in these graphics novels do not see World War II on the horizon, is a very interesting perspective for us to think about.

INSKEEP: This is a period when Adolf Hitler has not risen to power in Germany, but lots of things are going wrong in Germany...

Dr. PEARL: Right.

INSKEEP: ...that will create openings for them later on.

Dr. PEARL: Yes. And he's coming to power. You see the beginnings of anti-Semitism. You see the left wing kind of splintering in different groups. There are two characters that you follow throughout these books, and one is a journalist and the other is a young artist.

And it's - for people who don't read graphic novels, perhaps aren't familiar with them, this would be a good one to start with because it's a novel, and it's a novel that is illustrated in a way that just adds to the atmosphere. It's a remarkable achievement.

INSKEEP: I love how just about everything in this stack - except may be Paris. Paris is an obvious place to go. But most of the things in this stack take you to a place on the globe or a place in history, or both, that you would not automatically expect to go.

Dr. PEARL: Yes. Can I tell you one more, very quickly?

INSKEEP: Please. Please.

Dr. PEARL: Now, I don't know if Albania is in anyone's travel plans soon.

INSKEEP: Why not?

Dr. PEARL: But there is a wonderful, light read, a spy novel by Dorothy Gilman, the first of a whole series. This one is called "The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax." And Mrs. Pollifax, who lives in New Jersey, is a woman of a certain age, a little bit depressed. Her doctor says she should find some new interests. So she takes the train here to Washington and goes to the CIA headquarters...

INSKEEP: Okay.

Dr. PEARL: ...and volunteers to be a spy. Now, through a series of misunderstandings, Mrs. Pollifax is sent to Mexico as a touristy courier, because no one would ever take her as a spy. And then through other events, she gets sent to Albania.

I would say whenever you're feeling kind of blue inside and its gray outside, this is a book to pick up and read and reread.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl, thanks for taking this journey around the world with us.

Dr. PEARL: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you can check out the full list of Nancy's travel books at npr.org. They can also be found in Nancy's new book, "Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds and Dreamers."

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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