When I was sixteen, I went to Mexico. It was a house-stay program, and when I arrived, I thought I'd discovered another world, a sunny paradise — or, at least, a three-story stucco paradise, complete with gated entrance and brightly tiled courtyard. The short study abroad trip was my first time out of the country, and I expected Mexico to make years of history and geography lessons come to life; I expected to try new foods, learn new idioms, get over my fear of underage drinking and party at a discotheque. It didn't quite work out like that: my first night, my host parents served me spaghetti with a deluge of Kraft parmesan and a dollop of crema; my one trip to a discotheque ended with me shedding mascara tears in a loud bathroom.
Okay, okay: the new foods (plantain and black bean stew, coffee-laced chewing gum) arrived and so did the singular experiences. Climbing pyramids and bartering with silver merchants in Taxco helped me understand the world and my small place in it in a way that I'll never be able to quantify. But, let's face it: not all of us are able to jetset from one Eat, Pray, Love experience to the next. What's a perspective-hungry soul to do?
Fortunately, dear readers, we're lucky. We readers have imaginations — fearsome, off-the-chains imaginations — that can zip us to places that don't even exist IRL. Forget checking bags or downing a cold glass of red wine to get over your fear of flying: these seven books will help you broaden your horizons, no matter where on earth you are.
1. The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy
Barbara Gowdy is a Canadian treasure, and I've never understood why she hasn't enjoyed more popularity in the U.S. (If you can track down her short story collection, We So Seldom Look On Love , do it.) The White Bone is a sweeping family saga — narrated entirely from the perspective of sagacious African elephants. And, while Gowdy's book contains plenty of the icky-sexy details that she's known for, The White Bone also explores the common animal impulse to preserve, even when the limits of our faith are tested.
2. The Beast Side: Living (And Dying) While Black In America by D. Watkins
Expanding your worldview doesn't have to mean inhabiting the mind of another species. In his gripping essay collection, D. Watkins exposes a culture of lethal drug violence in "Bodymore, Murderland"— what he and his friends called their hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. Given that the national conversation about Black Lives Matter is a work-in-progress, Watkins' book will help you take a powerful step toward understanding another aspect of a not-at-all faraway place.
3. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
A national bestseller, the winner of the Man Booker Prize, Life of Pi isn't one of those under-the-radar titles, especially not after Ang Lee's stunning film adaptation. Nevertheless, the landscape of Martel's novel is entirely magical, a place of zoos and bodies of water, where stories pool endlessly.
4. ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness by CAConrad
CAConrad is one of the most innovative poets working today, and his latest book continues to break new ground. Here, he offers writing exercises — rituals for habitual practice designed to challenge the writer's predominant geo — and socio-political paradigms. Read this book and try some of the exercises to expand your worldview while kicking off National Poetry Month.
5. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
When I think about expanding my worldview, the first thing that comes to mind isn't necessarily... well, time. But Ondaatje's tale of four lives ravaged by World War II will completely reset your internal clock, making hours practically ooze. If you're anything like me, someone who always seems to be racing from one thing or thought to the next, this book is like literary meditation.
6. Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler
The trilogy by Octavia Butler, feminist godmother of sci-fi, tells the story of Lilith, the only human who survives the destruction of Earth. She's resurrected by a group of alien beings called the Oankali and later gives birth to an new civilization in this post-apocalyptic, post-human saga that will challenge your notion of what it means to be human.
7. The Doors Of Perception by Aldous Huxley
This first-person account of the Brave New World author's experiences with LSD is a meditative — and, in an intellectual way, trippy — examination of what it means to be a sensory being and perceive the world.
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