It’s summer, and I have been thinking about vacation. I just got back from a lovely weekend in Oceanside, and it looks like I’ll have another trip on the horizon to Maine. The all-important decision, of course, is what to bring to read. I have found that by practicing careful vacation reading curation, I am left with books I’m unable to separate from the landscape. It’s a lovely thing to have happen.
So in that spirit, I thought I’d make some recommendations.
It’s a bit of a mish-mosh, these lists. They’re to my taste and to my whims as they stand today. I tend to agonize over what I’m reading and pick a theme, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with where I’m traveling. My first trip to Yosemite was steeped in Tolkien. The Ross Lake adventure was mostly dystopia amid stark mountains and placid, cold waters. I spent a bit of the summer in Maine at my Aunt’s house by the river, in a sunny room full of antiques, reading Jane Austen. But if I had to pick on place alone, these are what I would recommend in this moment, depending on where you’re traveling. It’s a little bit of heartbreak, some silly, a heap of amazing prose, and a pinch of magic to round it all out.
I also want to say that in reviewing this lists, there is not nearly enough Rainbow Rowell, nor Diana Wynne Jones here. They didn’t seem to fit into categories very well, but you can’t go wrong in reading ANYTHING by these two. I especially recommend starting with Dogsbody, Fire and Hemlock, or Howl’s Moving Castle with Jones though. She has so many, it’s hard to weed-through. Rowell’s backlist is still fairly manageable.
Happy adventuring, and happy reading!
- Colony, by Anne Rivers Siddons: four generations of family secrets and betrayal on the shores of a summer colony in Maine; and the strength of the women who keep the colony intact.
- The Moonspinners, by Mary Stewart: While on vacation in a remote part of Crete, Nicola runs into two travelers who have witnessed a murder and are being hunted by a man from the local village.
- Lake Woebegone, Summer 1956: A coming of age novel about Gary, self-described tree toad, who writes stories about talking dogs and is somewhat obsessed with his bad-girl cousin Kate.
- Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray: If you mashed up Lord of the Flies with the Miss America pageant, and then added a smidge of reality TV, you might get this novel.
- The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han: Belly is used to tagging after the boys all summer long at the beach house her mother’s best friend owns. But now they’re all older, everything has changed, and the boys are running after Belly. And the adults are hiding something life-changing.
- The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien: Bilbo is very surprised when twelve dwarves show up on his doorstep and sweep him off on an adventure containing elves, wizards, a dragon, talking ravens, and a very strange ring.
- Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin: An ethnography of a matriarchal culture in California that exists after the nuclear apocalypse. Weird and interesting, and just beautiful.
- Watership Down, by Richard Adams: Because of Fiver’s presentments of doom and destruction, a group of rabbits go on an epic journey to find a new home.
- Chalice, by Robin McKinley: With the Demesne ravaged by misuse, and a new Master who is part fire-demon, Marisol must attempt to hold the land together with her hives of bees and her chalice, or lose everything to the men who seek to usurp them.
- Plain Tales from the Hills, by Rudyard Kipling: A collection of short stories featuring soldiers and others in India. Usually of the heartbreaking sort.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith: Francie grows in Victorian New York, struggling against gender roles and poverty to become the woman she needs to become.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot: The strange and sometimes terrifying story of a woman whose cancer cells are used in almost all stem cell research, yet her poverty-stricken family cannot afford health insurance.
- Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott: A tale of Miss Tribulation Periwinkle and her time as a nurse in Washington during the Civil War.
- Isla and the Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins: Isla has a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh. When they both end up friendless at the American School in Paris, it looks like something might blossom – during senior year. Just in time for them to have to part.
- Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris: A hilarious collection of essays, including his life as an artist in New York, and the time he spent in France.
- Paper Towns, by John Green: Pretty, perfect Margo Roth Spiegelman climbs through Qs window one night and they go on a spree of pranking. But then she disappears, and it looks like she’s left him clues to find her.
- Candy Freak, by Steve Almond: About one man’s search through the candy factories of America and abroad in an effort to sate his sweet tooth, or perhaps just to ferret out the other Candy Freaks.
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: Richard runs into a woman bleeding on the pavement one night, and finds he must help her. He wakes up to discover that he no longer belongs to London. He belongs to a strange world called London Below; and he must go on a perilous journey to restore the status-quo.
- Forever Liesl by Charmian Carr: a lovely memoir not only of the making of a Hollywood starlet, but of the movie The Sound of Music and of the lives it touched across the globe.
- Travels with Charlie In Search of America, by John Steinbeck: Steinbeck travels America in the 1960s, with nothing but his trailer and his poodle, Charlie. This is his beautifully written memoir of the people and attitudes he encountered along the way.