Nonfiction

Bed and Blessings: Italy. By June Walsh and Anne Walsh (Paulist; paperback, $16.95). You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's rye bread, the ads used to say. And you don't have to be Catholic to stay overnight in an Italian convent or monastery. This guide tells how do to it, gives specs for each institution that accepts guests, and points out the pluses (low prices, inspiring surroundings) and minuses (curfews in some places, zero proficiency in English at others). In the Liguria region (near Genoa), for example, you might try the Villa Charles Garnier, owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph: "Most of the accommodations," the authors write, "have balconies with views of the glistening blue sea . . ."

Dancing in the Dark: Romance, Yearning, and the Search for the Sublime. By Barbara Lazear Ascher (HarperCollins, $24). "Wordsworth took to the lakes, Keats to Rome, Shelley to Lake Como, Byron to Venice, and Thoreau to the woods," says Barbara Lazear Ascher in the first chapter of this book. "My first stop in the romantic quest was Central Park." Why is a book about looking for romance in Book World's special section on travel? Because this is as ambitious an adventure as any we cover on these pages: It deals with a journey out of the self. Ascher, author of Landscape Without Gravity, Playing After Dark, and The Habit of Loving, sets out to track our human instinct for romance in the most surprising of places: among birders in the park, in museums around the world, in a Manhattan pastry kitchen, in Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house, under the glass chandeliers of the Palazzo Pisani della Moretta talking to Tom Cruise. Even when humans contemplate Paradise, Ascher muses, we tend to think of it as a " `place' part fairy tale, part Magritte."

The West Indies and the Spanish Main. By Anthony Trollope (Carroll & Graf; paperback, $15.95). Anthony Trollope, the prodigiously prolific Victorian novelist, was a multifaceted man of letters. Besides his 47 novels he wrote short stories, an autobiography, translations from Latin, a monograph on Thackeray, and several travelogues, including this one, which Paul Theroux calls "one of the ten essential travel books." Trollope's journey to the Indies took place in 1858, when there were wild disparities in comfort level from one destination to the next. In Demerara (also known as British Guiana), though, the author found a land of nonstop, sybaritic pleasure: "The men of Demerara are never angry, and the women are never cross. Life flows along on a perpetual stream of love. smiles, champagne, and small talk. The only persons who do not thrive are the doctors; and for them, as the country affords them so little to do, the local government no doubt provides liberal pensions."

Kilimanjaro Adventure: One Family's Quest to Reach the Top of the African Continent. By Hal Streckert (Mission Press, P.O. Box 9586, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. 92067; paperback, $15.95). The Streckerts -- father Hal, mother Diane, and teenage son Kyle -- were not climbing novices when they set their sights on Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. They had previously hiked and climbed in the Western United States, including an ascent of Mt. Whitney, highest mountain in the lower 48. But at 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro is at another order of physical stress -- the air is so thin there that climbers must undergo rigorous conditioning. When they all finally reached the top, the Streckerts surprised even themselves. Soreness had kept Diane from being able to train properly, and she had gone along just to see how far she get. Kyle's presence, his father writes, was especially important because, "as a teenager he really did not share much of his life with us anymore. To have him along with us on this climb was a tremendous privilege." The book comes complete with an appendix on logistics and information sources.