Book Club

PPCA’s Book Club gatherings are open to all who have read that month’s book. Typically we start out discussing the book, and inevitably someone relates a theme in the book to their own experiences or other readings, so the conversation takes an interesting turn. Our Book Club discusses books of broad interest set in parts of the world in which Peace Corps Volunteers have served, or books which were authored by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). We love author appearances! Between 2010 and 2019, we have hosted or will host 34 different authors – in person, by phone, or via Skype.


Here are our next three book discussions:

February 2021 Book Club Selection

Never Leaving Laramie
Haines, John W.: Never Leaving Laramie: Travels in a Restless World (2020)

Discussion: Monday, February 15, 2021, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information. Participating in our discussion will be John Haines, the book’s author!

Synopsis: John Haines spent the better part of two decades traveling the world: biking through Tibet, kayaking the length of the Niger River, taking the Trans-Siberian Express from Beijing to East Berlin. Various friends and compatriots—frequently from his hometown of Laramie, Wyoming—accompanied Haines on his trips. In 1999, everything changed. While leaping from a moving train in the Czech Republic—something he’d done many times in many places—Haines fell and broke his neck. Damage to his spine left him without use of his legs and radically changed his life. In the years since, Haines has added writer to a résumé that already included baker and banker. In Never Leaving Laramie, he pulls stories about traveling into an exploration of home: How a rural home fueled and sustained a worldview. How beauty and danger blend together with humility and ego. How itchy feet combine with the comfort of home in Laramie, a tough railroad town turned college town and a launchpad for wanderers. Throughout, Haines returns to ideas of rivers and movement. He ends with a chapter on a different kind of travel, reflecting on how his accident did and did not change him and the varied ways that people can move through the world.

Where to find it:
Vendors: OSU Press | Amazon


March 2021 Book Club Selection

Beyond the Sky and Earth
Zeppa, Jamie: Beyond the Sky and Earth: A Journey into Bhutan (1999)

Discussion: Thursday, March 11, 2021, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information.

Review: © Publishers Weekly: Zeppa’s story is nearly an inversion of the ancient Buddhist tale of Siddhartha (in which a prince ventures from the paradise of his father’s palace only to find the suffering and decay that he never knew existed) in that the author, at the age of 22, abruptly leaves a stale life in Canada to become a volunteer teacher in the remote and largely undisturbed Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. Cloaked in the airy mountains between India and China, Bhutan initially frustrates but eventually captivates Zeppa with its rudimentary lifestyle that forces her to question former values and plans for the future. Though the story line would seem to open itself to cloying romanticization, Zeppa’s telling of her clumsy attempts to adapt rings with sincerity and inspires sympathy. She thinks to herself upon visiting a local house: “In one shadowy corner, there is a skinny chicken. I blink several times but it does not vanish. Is it a pet? Is it dinner?” Zeppa’s lucid descriptions of the craggy terrain and honest respect for the daily struggles of the natives bring the tiny land to life in a way that is reverent but real. Though she tries to avoid what a friend terms “that Shangri-La-Di-Da business” and grapples with the poverty, sexism and political squabbles in Bhutan that bother her, there is little doubt that she sees the place in a largely positive light and is tempted to remain. In the end, Zeppa’s is a lively tale of her earnest efforts to reconcile what she has learned with what she has known.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

April 2021 Book Club Selection

The Buried
Hessler, Peter*: The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution (2019)

* RPCV China 1996-1998

Discussion: TBA date in April 2021. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information. Participating in our discussion will be Peter Hessler, the book’s author!

Review: © Publishers Weekly: New Yorker foreign correspondent Hessler (Oracle Bones) lived in Egypt during the months and years following the 2011 ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, and his account of learning Arabic, befriending a diverse array of characters, and gingerly probing the sore spots of Egyptian society is at once engrossing and illuminating. While Hessler lives in Cairo and much of the early action centers there, he ventures more widely than most foreigners in the country, and his reporting from sleepy upper Egyptian villages and remote Chinese development projects add complexity. Most of Hessler’s contacts get roughed up and imprisoned by the security services at one point or another, often for inscrutable reasons: “There was no point to the brutality-it served no larger purpose.” He returns frequently to the theme of internal tension and contradiction-that Egyptians “combined rigid tradition with ideas that could be surprisingly open-minded or nonconformist”-to contrast the brittle institutions of the state, such as courts, with the deep-seated social patterns and relationships that provide structure when the state is dysfunctional or ineffectual. Adroitly combining the color and pacing of travel writing and investigative journalism with the tools and insight of anthropological fieldwork and political theory, this stakes a strong claim to being the definitive book to emerge from the Egyptian revolution.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Most of our books are selected by an annual survey, featuring curated options from books widely available in local libraries. We schedule additional discussions when an author of a non-self-published book offers to meet with us. If you are interested in learning more about PPCA’s Book Club, please contact Bill Stein, at 503-830-0817 or bookclub AT crpca.org.