Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli
Copyright 2010
Crown - Nonfiction/Travel Memoir
279 pages

I longed for a way of life in which people made it a priority to look into each other's eyes and communicate, soul-to-soul, uninterrupted, like in that Zulu warrior greeting we'd practiced in happiness class. I yearned for meandering conversations about all things important, all things banal. Bhutan, I imagined, might be as close as you could get on earth to what I'd been craving--a real, live, actual community, where being wired took a backseat to being present, face-to-face, experiencing the here and now.

--p. 42 of Radio Shangri-La, Advanced Reader Copy (Some changes may have been made to the final print version)

What's it about?

Author Lisa Napoli, who works in public radio in Los Angeles, was having a midlife crisis when an encounter with a handsome stranger led to an opportunity to work as a volunteer at Bhutan's first radio station. Bhutan is known as "the happiest place on earth" and they like to measure their success in Bhutan using the words "Gross National Happiness," as opposed to the typical Gross Domestic Product. The quote above tells you what she hoped to find.

What did Bookfool think?

While Radio Shangri-La was not entirely what I expected as it lacked the sort of adventure I thought the author might encounter in a little-known Himalayan country, this rather introspective look at a nation in transition from remote, incommunicado nation to more modern, connected and city-oriented environment was fascinating.

The author's personal crisis and thoughts about life and love were relevant but somewhat less interesting. One thing I loved: the author is not arrogant. In fact, Napoli is quite humble and a very likable narrator, a nice person if a bit confused. We're in agreement that cellphones, the internet and other technological doohickeys have gotten in the way of real life and relationships. We both miss eye contact, meals and conversations without an interruption to read an email or answer a mobile call and quiet evenings without television. I don't agree with her about everything she has to say, though. For example, she is (or was) middle-aged, single and cynical. She makes comments like, "Love isn't forever" (not a direct quote). I personally believe the character of love changes over time, but it's possible to remain in love for your entire life. Some people really do still love each other after 50 years together.

What I'm not going to tell you:

What the author learned and how she came to appreciate her life. You have to read the book to get that part. And, I think it's worth the time.

The bottom line:

An easily digestible, fascinating look at a country most readers probably know little about and its first foray into radio. For my part, I'd heard of Bhutan and was correct about its approximate location . . . but even that was actually a wild guess, so I enjoyed learning about a country that was new to me. Lacking in adventure but fascinating for its analysis of the people and the time, at times uneven but overall a decent memoir. I particularly recommend Radio Shangri-La to readers who love to learn about new places and/or enjoy memoirs. My thanks to Crown/Random House for the review copy pictured at left.

Update, Thursday afternoon: I couldn't find the image of the final print version when I was writing my review, last night, so I just loaded the pic of my ARC (which I'd already photographed). I've since taken the time to fetch the final image at the author's request.

Back to what I wrote on Wednesday night . . .

Why I'm writing in this weird new format:

It's a temporary thing. I'm trying to be brief because of time constraints. Plus, my feet are freezing, so I'm hurrying to finish, then I'll run to get socks. Okay, forget that. I'm just going to get myself some socks right now. Done! They're apple green with pink and white polka-dots, in case you're curious.

So, back to the format . . . Much as everyone seemed to love my review of The Girl Who Chased the Moon, there's a limit to just how casual I'm willing to write reviews on a regular basis, so I'll probably get back to my normal chatty but analytical format in a couple weeks. I'm feeling overwhelmed, this week, though. Some weeks are like that.

If I have time:

Tomorrow I'll run downtown to the Vicksburg waterfront to take a picture or two. I was there on Sunday and I think it will be fun, if sobering, to see how fast the Mississippi River is rising. On the other hand, I may not even be able to shoot a picture to compare. The dock is fully blocked from entrance in anticipation of the expected rise in water level. Well, we'll just see what I can or can't photograph.

Flooding seems to be taking a backseat to arguments about Osama and Obama in the national news, but Kiddo dropped by church and happened across preparations by the Red Cross. Our church is one of 6 or 7 local buildings that are used as shelters by the Red Cross in times of disaster. Look up "1927 Mississippi flood" at Google Images if you're curious about the flood to which the growing disaster is being compared. Here's one:

Gotta go. My feet are still cold. I think I'll stick them under a blanket and read for a while.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. My book club read this and we all enjoyed it. We got to talk to Lisa and she is just delightful.

  2. Kathy,

    I'm not surprised. Her style is very relaxed and chatty. I picture the author as quite personable. Very cool that you read it for a book group! I think I'd enjoy chatting about it with friends.

  3. I won this book and am really excited to get the chance to read it, mainly because I have never read anything about Bhutan before. I am also curious about the growth of the author, and want to see how she manages to change her viewpoint so drastically. Thanks for another wonderful review!

  4. Zibilee,

    Yay! It's always great to win a book and this is a fun one, if only for the learning experience. I think you'll enjoy it. :)

  5. Anonymous10:10 AM

    My mom's heard of this and she's already raving about getting her hands on a copy - she's a huge travel book buff. Can't wait to tell her I've heard more good things. Also, like the new format, and truly don't mind the casual tone! Good luck warming those feetsies, and the socks sound adorable!

  6. Wereadtoknow,

    Your mom and I share a love of travelogues! I really enjoyed this one. It's particularly nice to read a memoir by someone who is self-confident but has some humility, questioning but willing to go out on a limb to find answers.

    Thanks! I may just bounce back and forth between tones, depending on the book. I do a little of that, anyway. My socks were so cute!! I'm wearing gray with purple stripes, today. You needed to know that, right? ;)


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!