I’m always guilty of bringing too many books when packing for a trip; being a firm believer in the one-book-per-day rule. (Not that I’m necessarily going to read a book a day — though on a certain kind of vacation I might — but that I worry about running out, about maybe not liking what I brought, about wanting something for a different mood.) For those who, like me, feel like our vacation packing isn’t complete unless it’s weighed down with novels, here are a handful of reading suggestions for various kinds of journeys — even if you’re staying home.
For the beach
Not exactly a fluffy beach read, Ian McEwan’s “On Chesil Beach” is a devastating, gorgeous portrait of a young couple on their wedding night at a seaside hotel in Dorset, and of the intricate baggage they carry. Or, if you’d prefer something a bit lighter, Beatriz Williams’ novels all suit beach bags well; “The Summer Wives” is an engrossing tale of an actor returning to the island town that changed her life long ago. Even lighter? Consider the best beach read ever (even though I don’t remember it actually involving a beach): Kevin Kwan’s frothy “Crazy Rich Asians,” a tale of love and excess that’ll have you giggling on every page.
For a boat trip
Should you need an aquatic thriller, Catherine Steadman’s debut thriller “Something in the Water,” in which a couple on honeymoon in Bora Bora make a mysterious discovery while scuba diving, will definitely keep you up at night. Also a seductive page-turner: Maile Meloy’s “Do Not Become Alarmed,” in which a family’s children go missing on a cruise vacation.
For a city vacation
Here are two books that immerse you in a great city’s past. Colum McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin” is a glorious portrait of New York on one day in 1974, when the city was mesmerized by a French aerial artist walking a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers. Taking place during a heat wave, Emma Donoghue’s “Frog Music” is a rich portrait of 1878 San Francisco.
For a road trip
Jade Chang’s delightful novel “The Wangs vs. the World” follows a family whose patriarch — having lost the family fortune — decides to take his kids on a cross-country drive. Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is a more somber type of road trip, in which a Mississippi mother packs her children into the car to collect her boyfriend from prison. And one of my all-time favorites: Kazuo Ishiguro’s gemlike novel “The Remains of the Day,” in which an aging butler travels the English countryside in his employer’s borrowed car in the 1950s, pondering how the war changed the world as he knew it.
For a trip around the world (even if it’s just on the page)
Spokane author Jess Walter’s “Beautiful Ruins” takes place primarily at an Italian pension, but makes its way to Hollywood, Edinburgh and even Seattle in its tale of movies and dreams. Esi Edugyan’s intoxicating historical novel “Washington Black” has at its heart a formerly enslaved young man who finds himself traveling the world. Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Signature of All Things” follows its 19th-century heroine on a botanical journey far from her Philadelphia home. Christopher Bollen’s dark-side-of-summer novel “The Destroyers” made me think of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” in its Greece-set tale of a missing heir.
For a family vacation
Tessa Hadley’s “The Past” gathers four grown siblings to a seaside town and an old house belonging to their long-gone grandparents; it’s a rich setting for a reunion, a vacation, and a reckoning for what to do with the house, which becomes a character on its own. In Emma Straub’s “The Vacationers,” a family heads out on a seemingly idyllic vacation in Mallorca; alas, in the way of many family vacations, all does not go well.
For a nonfamily vacation
Anne Tyler’s warm novels are always good vacation reading, but especially “Ladder of Years,” in which a woman walks away from her family’s traditional summer beach break and poignantly begins a new life in a nearby town. Terry McMillan’s bestseller “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (also made into a popular movie), begins with a woman’s solo vacation — which ultimately has happy implications for her life. And, speaking of books that became movies, I always love pointing people toward “The Enchanted April” by Elizabeth von Arnim, in which four not-very-well-acquainted women band together for a dream vacation in an Italian medieval castle.
Whether your summer vacation involves a castle or not (alas, mine doesn’t), may it be filled with good reading! And if you’ve found the perfect summer novel, do let me know.