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Tales Of Two-Wheeled Travel: A Literary List To Cycle Through

Who needs destinations? This summer, we're focusing on the journey. All these books — some old, some new — will transport you: by train, plane, car, bike, boat, foot, city transit, horse, balloon, rocket ship, time machine and even the odd giant peach. Bon voyage! (Taxes and fees not included).

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The Motorcycle Diaries

Before he led revolutions and became a Latin American icon, Ernesto "Che" Guevara was a 23-year-old medical student in Argentina. In 1952, he left behind his middle-class life in Buenos Aires to explore the entire South American continent with his good friend Alberto Granado. Starting off on the back of an old, single-cylinder Norton motorcycle he affectionately nicknames "La Ponderosa," Guevara logs thousands of miles traveling through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and more (they also travel by foot, steamship, horse, bus, hitchhiking and a raft down the Amazon). Guevara's travel diary chronicles his leftist political coming-of-age, as he and Alberto meet struggling copper miners and indigenous campesinos descended from the Incas and volunteer to care for patients at a leper colony. Ever since this became a best-selling must-read, Guevara's account of his exhilarating and poignant road trip through South America has inspired generations of adventurers as well as those hoping to change the world.

-- Mandalit del Barco, correspondent, Arts Desk

The Giver

Bicycles are a big part of my life: My girlfriend and I courted on bikes; they feature prominently in our vacations; and after watching one too many apocalyptic films, we've formulated an escape plan in which bicycles carry us to safety. So when I finally got around to reading Lois Lowry's tale of a place where everyone has an assigned role and there are no choices, the community's reliance on bicycles struck me. And then there's the end of the book, when [SPOILER ALERT] protagonist Jonas strikes out on his bike after learning the ugly truths of his seemingly perfect world. Jonas journeys beyond everything he knows and everything he has ever seen, and Lowry's descriptions of that trek are so involving and terrifying that I felt my own calf muscles tire as he pedaled and I wondered at the strength he had to keep going. I would not recommend the conditions under which Jonas traveled, but I would recommend you share in it with him.

-- Jane Gilvin, NPR Library staff

Into Thick Air

In Into Thick Air, botanist Jim Malusa describes riding his trusty bicycle to the lowest spots of all six continents — Lake Eyre (Australia), the Dead Sea (Asia), the Caspian Sea (Europe), Salina Grande (South America), Lake Assal (Africa) and Death Valley, near his home in Arizona. He overcomes everything from extreme weather and extreme insects to the very real threat of land mines if he strays off the road in Africa. Although these were solo trips, Malusa would make a great travel companion, as he has an enviable knack for meeting interesting people, hearing fascinating tales and seeing unusual sights. (For example, there's an old state cafeteria in Volgograd, he tells us, "featuring perhaps the world's only aluminum bas-relief of dumplings.") Malusa's philosophy of travel is nicely summed up in one sentence: "Travel without surprises was merely an agenda."

-- Nancy Pearl, librarian and book critic

Riding With Reindeer

In Riding with Reindeer, Robert Goldstein writes: "I like bicycles. I like to ride bicycles. Sometimes, I like to ride bicycles great distances." The solo adventure he describes in this humorous travel memoir was a journey that took him (including detours and map misfires) more than 2,000 miles, north from Helsinki to the Barents Sea. Along the way, Goldstein contends with the loss of a wheel on the luggage trailer that he's towing behind his bike; narrow highway shoulders; unexpectedly steep hills (although everyone he meets assures him that Finland is totally flat); endless mosquito attacks; hail, lightning and rainstorms; not to mention getting stuck in the elevator of a guesthouse run by nuns. Lucky for us, we get to share in his epic adventure from start to finish, as well as learn interesting bits about Finnish history and culture.

-- Nancy Pearl, librarian and book critic

The Mouse And The Motorcycle

Pb-pb-b-b-b ... watch out, there's a mouse on that motorcycle! Life changes forever for Ralph the mouse when a new family checks into the Mountain View Inn where he lives. A boy named Keith has a red toy motorcycle and Ralph is determined to ride it — even if he does not know how. When Keith discovers that Ralph covets his motorcycle, instead of being upset, he generously teaches Ralph how out to start it — by making a "Pb-pb-b-b-b" noise. With his newfound freedom, Ralph delights in terrorizing a terrier, zooming up and down corridors, and even venturing outside. In Beverly Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle, ride along with Ralph for a truly delightful summer adventure. (For ages 8 to 12)

-- Lisa Yee, author, most recently of Warp Speed

Ride With Me

Tom Geiger is looking forward to an easygoing cross-country ride on the TransAmerica bike trail, but unbeknownst to him, his sister has volunteered him via email to accompany "Alex" on the tour. Showing up at the meeting place to dump the guy, Tom is annoyed to discover "Alex" is really "Lexie" — and his sense of responsibility won't let him abandon her to ride alone. Lexie is a control freak, unwilling to release her maps and technology to enjoy the scenery. But what starts out as general hostility works its way through as many hills, valleys, twists and turns as their actual trip, as Tom and Lexie must bare their souls and spill their deepest secrets before they can find first detente, then appreciation, and finally full-fledged love. A smart, fun and totally unique romance.

-- Bobbi Dumas, book critic

Right Ho, Jeeves

Discussing how he wrote, P.G. Wodehouse once said: "I like to think of some scene, it doesn't matter how crazy, and work backward and forward from it until eventually it becomes quite plausible and fits neatly into the story." That formula is in evidence in this hilarious, convoluted book. The story's many subplots include two feuding couples, an irate aunt, a drunken speech at a local school, an angry French chef and the man at the center of these woes, Bertie Wooster. Their problems are solved with aplomb by Wooster's all-knowing valet, Jeeves, who, in what is certainly my favorite scenes in comedic writing, makes his master take an 18-mile bicycle ride in the rain to retrieve a key. Its object: to keep Wooster away for long enough to ensure that the couples are reconciled, the chef appeased and the aunt placated. Perhaps because of how effortless the writing seems, Right Ho, Jeeves might not make it on a list of greatest books of the 20th century, but it's a reminder why Wodehouse's works remain influential nearly a century after they were first written.

-- Krishnadev Calamur, editor, NPR News

The Postman (Il Postino)

This charming tale goes by many names: Ardiente Paciencia, El Cartero De Neruda, Il Postino and The Postman. Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta tells a fictional story of a postman who befriends the exiled (and real-life) poet Pablo Neruda. In the village of Isla Negra, off the coast of Chile, postal carrier Mario Jimenez delivers letters by bicycle to his literary hero. Loaded down with fan letters for Neruda, Jimenez rides a "cheery" Legnano bike that carries him "beyond the rather limited horizon of the fisherman's bay" to Neruda's home, which "seemed Babylonian in comparison to Mario's own little hamlet." As he is waiting to hear whether he has won the Nobel Prize for literature, Neruda helps the shy postman become a poet and win the heart of a local islander. Skarmeta wrote and directed the story as a movie in 1983, then turned it into a novel two years later. About a decade after that, it became the film Il Postino, which moved the setting to Italy and featured a nostalgic tango called "The Bicycle" by Luis Enrique Bacalov — a theme song that helped win the film an Oscar for original dramatic score.

-- Mandalit del Barco, correspondent, Arts Desk

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