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10 Must-Read Books for Every Type of Summer Trip

By Aislyn Greene and Jennifer Flowers


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Your summer reading list, covered

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Summer means two things: travel and long stretches of work-free time, perfect for catching up on that neglected book list (well, we hope it means those things). But what’s a traveler to read? Here’s our guide to the latest books, whether you want an atmospheric novel to soak up on the beach or an unusual take on Roman history before your trip to Italy.

For the Family Vacation

Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Lee’s debut novel explores the relationship between two Chinese American sisters in New York City who have recently lost their mother to cancer and are carving out wildly different paths in life. Miranda, the responsible, ambitious protector, moves to pristine and orderly Switzerland, while Lucia, a writer who is struggling with mental illness, relocates to the Ecuadorian countryside. Lee explores the inextricable lifelong bond between the two sisters, even while facing tremendous odds.

For That Trip to Asia 

America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

We meet young Hero De Vera in the Filipino capital of Manila. Born to a wealthy family, she’s on her way to becoming a doctor, until political upheaval shifts her destiny and she joins a Communist guerilla group as a medic. Years later, she resurfaces in the San Francisco Bay Area to start her life over again under the roof of her aunt and uncle. As she struggles to heal from her past, Hero gets a glimpse of what the American Dream really looks like.

For a Jaunt to the U.S. South

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The future seems bright for Celestial and Roy Hamilton, newlyweds in the U.S. South who are about to embark on a life full of promise–until Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Faced with his 12-year sentence, the couple struggles to find comfort in written letters that both reinforce their love and address issues in their relationship that have long simmered beneath the surface. When Roy is released from prison halfway through his sentence, both he and Celestial discover they have changed more than they realized. While Jones’s fourth novel tackles the ugly truth of race and the criminal justice system in the United States, ultimately it is a love story.

For the Venice Biennale

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

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Pinch Bavinsky spends his entire childhood in awe of his father, Bear, a famous artist whose career brought his family to Rome in the 1950s. When Bear leaves his family to start a new life in a new place, Pinch spends several tormented years of his young adult life immersed in the art world himself, trying in vain to find his place. It’s not until his father’s death that Pinch returns to the exploration of his own creative identity—away from his father’s enormous shadow.

For the Train Ride

Feel Free, Essays by Zadie Smith

Award-winning London-based novelist Zadie Smith reveals an informal, more conversational side of her writing as she explores politics and culture in her new collection of essays. The author divides her 31 essays into five sections: In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free, and they cover everything from Brexit and climate change to Jay-Z and Justin Bieber. Even with such seemingly wide-ranging topics, Smith aims to reflect the spirit of our time through her insights and prose.

For the Tour de France

We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed

Just in time for the Tour de France (it debuts on June 19) comes Joe Mungo Reed’s chronicle of Solomon, an ambitious young cyclist training for the Tour and his equally ambitious wife, Liz, a geneticist. Couldn’t care less about cycling? This novel will hook you anyway—and haunt you. As Solomon confronts doping, and Liz raises the couple’s young son while pursuing her own career, forces beyond the couple’s control push them to take new risks in the name of aspiration. Embroidered with a sly humor—and insider details about the cycling world—the novel explores the sacrifices we’re willing to make for our dreams, climbing steadily toward its stunning climax.

For Your Big Camping Adventure

Look Big by Rachel Levin

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Finally, a book that answers the questions every outdoor-loving North American urbanite asks: What is it that I do again if I encounter a mountain lion while hiking? And are you supposed to run if you stumble upon a moose or hold your ground? Rachel Levin’s light-hearted read combines funny stories about wildlife encounters with facts and knowledgeable tips on what to do if you find yourself faced with any one of 50 North American creatures, from alligators to bed bugs. You’ll be ready to walk on the wild side in no time.

For the Road Trip

A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

In this potent, dizzying novel, husband-and-wife duo Titch and Irene Bobs enter the Redex Trial circa 1954, a brutal road race that takes them deep into the Australian outback. Riding shotgun: their next-door neighbor, Willie Bachhuber, a recently fired schoolteacher with a past—as well as some unsettling truths about their marriage. Toggling between Irene and Willie’s perspectives, the novel follows the trio as they journey farther into the outback, encountering dangers both physical (kangaroos and nonexistent roads) and social (rampant racism toward Aboriginal people) as they race toward the finish line.

For the Plane

Happiness by Aminatta Forna

Attila Asare is widowed psychiatrist from Ghana; Jean Turane a married academic from Massachusetts. They collide, quite literally, in London, where Jean is tracking the habits of London’s urban foxes and Attila is preparing for a keynote speech on the nature of trauma. The two part ways—and then meet again, by chance, soon after Attila discovers that the son of his niece is missing. Jean joins the search, putting her knowledge of the city’s hidden side to use. As the search for the boy grows, the connection between the two deepens, their story infused with nature and the characters that make London tick.  

For Your Trip to Italy

Rome, A History in Seven Sackings by Matthew Kneale

What’s not to love about a historical book that reads like a novel? Long-time resident (and novelist) Matthew Kneale tells the story of Rome through the lens of seven key battles across the span of 2,500 years of history, from the Gaul attack in 390 B.C.E. to the German occupation in World War II. As he traces each battle, he walks readers through the cultural and social moods of the time and the way each crisis shaped (and strengthened) the city. You’ll come away with a new understanding of one of the world’s most well-preserved cities, its famed ruins, and the tenacity and pride of its people.

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