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Books: Leisure reading

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'The Unsavvy Traveler'

Edited by Rosemary Caperton, Anne Mathews and Lucie Ocenas

Seal Press, $15.95.

A woman from Seattle is chased down a Beijing street by a mob. She has just stolen her own jacket from a waitress who stole it from her earlier in the week.

Camping in a Malaysian rainforest, a Boston woman finds her tent flooded by a rising river. One of her hiking boots is washed away. On the trek back, she experiments with different techniques for removing leeches.

A Utah woman goes to Masumoto, Japan, and learns the meaning of shame when the toilet in her apartment floods her downstairs neighbor.

In "The Unsavvy Traveler," 29 women tell tales of adventure and mishap. The stories are billed as being comic. In reality, some are amusing, but the collection as a whole is more heartening than hilarious. At their core, the stories are about relationships.

Tanmeet Sethi is saved from the mob by the guard at her apartment. Later, she is befriended by the owner of the restaurant where her coat was stolen.

Kari Bodnarchuk would have been alone in the rainforest had she not chanced upon a woman from Ireland who was also looking for adventure. They fought the flood and the leeches together.

And as for the toilet incident, weeks later, Marilyn Abildskov was still trying to figure out how to make things right in the way a Japanese neighbor would make things right.

It's OK to be unsavvy, that's the message of this collection of essays. Being human is OK and might even make you a few friends. — Susan Whitney


'The Black Tulip'

By Milt Bearden

Random House, $12.95.

This novel about war in Afghanistan is interesting in part because it was written by a former CIA officer who ran the agency's covert war there against the Soviets. This is a guy who is now writing about the spy-novel intrigue he lived with for 30 years. Refreshingly, Bearden writes very well and may become as successful a novelist as he was a spy.

The title refers to a rare black tulip that is found in northern Afghanistan. There is a story about a Russian soldier picking such a tulip in the spring of 1980 just seconds before he was killed by a sniper's bullet. A comrade is thought to have threaded the tulip into the dead soldier's buttonhole.

Later in the war, the transports flying the dead back home were called "black tulips" — the flower had become a symbol of death. — Dennis Lythgoe


'The Shape of a Pocket'

By John Berger

Pantheon, $24.

This is a challenging collection of essays by a famed novelist, essayist, playwright and poet who just turned 75 and lives in a small village in the French Alps. These previously published essays appear now as a way to honor a great writer.

The pocket symbolizes "a small pocket of resistance." According to Berger, "A pocket is formed when two or more people come together in agreement." Berger then uses that thought as a base to analyze, among other things, Rembrandt, Paleolithic cave painters, a Romanian peasant, ancient Egyptians, an expert in the loneliness of certain hotel bedrooms, dogs at dusk and a man in a radio station. The book demonstrates that his finest contribution remains his writings about art. — Dennis Lythgoe