We all sometimes imagine stepping outside our daily routine and into a strange new world. Whether the dream is running away with the circus or dropping out of the rat race to live off the land, thereâ€™s adventure out there on the flip side of normal. Here are four books that bring us inside exceptional communities and give us the inside scoop on the lives of those living beyond the fringe.
"Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish" by Joe Mackall
With their plain clothing and dedication to a simple way of life with few modern conveniences, the Amish are clearly marked as separate from the â€śEnglishâ€ť (non-Amish) society surrounding their communities. Itâ€™s only natural to gawk at that horse and buggy pulling up next to you at a red light, right? But even among this small subset of Americans, the extremely conservative and insular Swartzentruber Amish sect remains aloof from the more liberal branches of the faith. In â€śPlain Secrets,â€ť Joe Mackall takes us in to the homes and lives of a Swartzentruber clan.Â His respectful relationship with the Shetler family allows us an intimate glimpse into the daily reality of this usually hidden world. Mackall delves not only into the particular triumphs and heartaches of the Shetlers, but also into the history of the Amish community, and the Anabaptist religious tradition in an effort to illuminate just how the lines between insider and outsider -- Amish and English -- were drawn.
"American Gypsy: A Memoir" by Oksana Marafioti
Adolescence is enough to make anyone feel like an outsider. Your body is changing, your parents are mortifying, and no one else in the world could possibly understand how difficult it is to be fifteen. In â€śAmerican Gypsy,â€ť Oksana Marafioti is faced with the additional challenge of navigating her teenage years while she emigrates to the United States from the former Soviet Union. As a Roma gypsy, she faces discrimination and ostracism in both places and doesnâ€™t quite fit in anywhere.Â Marafiotiâ€™s teenage attempts to balance her Roma identity with the new American persona sheâ€™s trying to create are hilarious and moving, encompassing both the amusing misunderstandings and deep isolation that come from a culture clash.
"Memoirs of a Sword Swallower"Â by Daniel P. Mannix
Some kids are born outsiders, black sheep from birth. In a family of naval officers, Daniel Mannix wanted to be a wizard -- not an easily accessible career in Pennsylvania in the 1940s. Mannix takes to hanging around sideshows, desperate for a glimpse at the secrets of fakirs, fortune tellers and freaks. The fire eaterâ€™s unlucky day is Mannixâ€™s big break; when Flamo the Great has an explosive mishap during a performance, Mannix jumps at the chance learn his act and take his place in the showâ€™s line up, convinced it will bring him closer to understanding real magic. Itâ€™s clear that Mannix is right at home in the community of misfits he encounters in the sideshow tent. His remembrances about this community of people with strange talents, deformed bodies and questionable morals are downright charming. Andâ€¦there are plenty of helpful hints here for the aspiring performer. One example: always remember to gargle with olive oil after swallowing a few flaming torches; you wouldnâ€™t want to get a sore throat.
"The Hypocrisy of Disco" by Clane Hayward
With the hippie Hâ€™lane for a mother, Clane Hayward has no choice but to ride out the shifting currents of her motherâ€™s outsider way of life. As Hâ€™lane moves her children from commune to commune, we get Haywardâ€™s understandably disjointed recollections of the chaos, told from her eleven-year-old perspective. By the age of twelve, Haywardâ€™s home is a picnic table in a forest, her bedroom a tarp at the base of a tree, and she longs for routine and a normal home. â€śArenâ€™t we ever going to have a bathroom?â€ť she asks her mother, only to be reprimanded for wanting a â€śstraightâ€ť life. Even forty-five years after the Summer ofÂ Love, Haywardâ€™s young life reads as shockingly unorthodox, and the adults around her incredibly lax in their attention to their children -- sometimes to the point of neglect. But the memoir pops with life and humor as the young girl puzzles out how to navigate the disordered world she faces. Melancholy moments -- like picking a package of cookies out of the trash as a treat for her brother (their macrobiotic mother forbids all processed foods and refined sugar) -- are balanced out by moments of exhilarating, unexpected adventure that those of with the luxury of bathrooms rarely get to experience.