36 Views of Mount Fuji, Cathy N. Davidson

One of America's most significant exports is the English language and the culture that accompanies it. Thousands of Americans have gone abroad to teach English, and hundreds of them have written books about their experiences. These books tend to reveal as much about their authors--and thus our shared American culture--as they do about the host culture in which they find themselves. A professor at Duke who has visited Japan four times, Davidson writes perceptively, frankly, and personally about her struggles to understand Japanese ways. She also attempts to reconcile those ways with her own life. Davidson has much to say about the role of women in both cultures and of the problems of trying to live in both worlds, but, unlike most authors of this genre, she is nonjudgmental and fair. This is one of the best "explanations" of Japanese culture, and our problems in understanding it, that has come along in years. Highly recommended.

Giving up the Ghost, Eric Nuzum

Eric Nuzum is afraid of the supernatural, and for good reason: As a high school oddball in Canton, Ohio, during the early 1980s, he became convinced that he was being haunted by the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress who lived in his parents’ attic. It began as a weird premonition during his dreams, something that his quickly diminishing circle of friends chalked up as a way to get attention. It ended with Eric in a mental ward, having apparently destroyed his life before it truly began. The only thing that kept him from the brink: his friendship with a girl named Laura, a classmate who was equal parts devoted friend and enigmatic crush. With the kind of strange connection you can only forge when you’re young, Laura walked Eric back to “normal”—only to become a ghost herself in a tragic twist of fate.

Years later, a fully functioning member of society with a great job and family, Eric still can’t stand to have any shut doors in his house for fear of what’s on the other side. In order to finally confront his phobia, he enlists some friends on a journey to America’s most haunted places. But deep down he knows it’s only when he digs up the ghosts of his past, especially Laura, that he’ll find the peace he’s looking for.