Travel Light This Holiday
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because our minds could use a vacation right about now.
It’s July, high summer in much of the world, and most of us are dreaming of getaways and vacations, 2019-style. Many people love big-city adventures with museums, theater and fancy restaurants on the agenda, while others prefer slow, winding drives through the remote countryside. For some, it’s just not a holiday without a stretch of sand and a well-stocked cooler; still others devote their downtime to more rigorous adventures like scuba diving, rock climbing or hiking. The pandemic has rewritten our vacation plans, but that doesn’t mean our minds can’t take a break from the everyday.
“Come to the book as you would come to an unexplored land. Come without a map. Explore it and draw your own map,” Stephen King once wrote. And so we shall. This Sunday’s OZY magazine offers reading recommendations to suit every vacation style — from seaside escapes to mountaintop excursions and stops along the way. Join us in going On the Read. And be sure to tell us your favorite books, or what King calls “portable magic.”
By the Sea
A Drop in the Ocean, by Jenni Ogden
When Anna Fergusson, a 49-year-old neuroscientist who specializes in Huntington’s disease, loses her job in Boston, she impulsively decides to rent a cabin on Turtle Island, a secluded spot along the Australian Great Barrier Reef — a serene and gorgeous setting that seabirds and turtles call home. This lyrical read will make you question the fragility of life and plans, the complexity of love and new beginnings. The best part? It will transport you to Turtle Island and satisfy your craving for the beach.
Baby Island, by Carol Ryrie Brink
If you think you’re too old to read a children’s book, think again. Baby Island follows two young siblings, Mary and Jen, who are stranded on a deserted island when a ferocious storm wrecks their ship. But they aren’t the only survivors — four younger children are now under their care. First published in the 1960s, this book is a study in courage like few others. If you read it as a child, read it again for a completely new experience. The setting, Mary and Jen’s bravado and the hidden hope will affect you differently — we promise you won’t be disappointed.
The Beach House, by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge
This murder mystery kicks off when the body of Peter Mullen is discovered off the coast of East Hampton. His brother Jack, a law student in New York City, suspects foul play and decides to investigate. After some digging, he learns that Peter was much more than a valet for rich partygoers — he had been making a lot of money sexually servicing the wealthiest women and men in town. In his search for answers, Jack comes up against local lawyers, police and paid protectors who make a distinction between the multimillionaire summer residents and hired help like Peter.
The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
This novel depicts the secrets, joys and jealousies that emerge over the course of an American family’s two-week stay on Mallorca. The Posts have a lot to celebrate: a daughter who just graduated from high school and her parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. But skeletons come tumbling out of the closet, revealing the family’s unresolved past, at the most inopportune time. With descriptions of mountains, beaches, tapas and tennis courts — not to mention domestic drama — it’s a great vacation read.
The Forever Summer, by Jamie Brenner
What happens when your perfect world falls apart? Marin Bishop spends her summer piecing together the fragments of her former life after she loses her job and fiancé — along with her father’s respect — in one fell swoop. Fleeing to her grandmother’s beachside B&B on Cape Cod, with her newly discovered half sister, seemed like the only right thing to do. Join Marin at the seaside as she reconciles her definitions of success.
A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow
The young adult fantasy novel you didn’t you needed. It shines an unexpected light on issues related to race, inclusivity and being a Black mermaid in America. Like a surrealist painting of the world today, this novel is set against a backdrop that’s partly mythological, but the story reflects the lives and struggles of ordinary young women. Morrow shows us how Black girls are often misunderstood, and the unfairness of it all hits readers like a riptide. Morrow’s storytelling is so compelling that you’ll readily surrender to the water’s current.
Outline, by Rachel Cusk
Narrator Faye heads to Athens, Greece, to teach a summer course on creative writing only to have a string of bizarre meetings with strangers and acquaintances. Seeing through the double lens of author and writing instructor, we witness Faye’s psychological disassociation, one that continually blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Cusk brilliantly experiments with point of view as she flows between first person and third person — often in the same sentence.
The Carnivorous City, by Toni Kan
The first novel by Kan, a Nigerian journalist turned novelist whose subjects are sex and seduction. This thriller follows a criminal who makes it from grime to grace and becomes a “Lagos big boy” with a seaside manor. When his brother comes to the seaport from southeastern Nigeria to find him, he too has to contend with temptations, including a life of crime and his brother’s wife.
The Dragonfly Sea, by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
With China’s growing investments in Africa, it was only a matter of time before that theme became a plot point. This novel, set on an island off the coast of Kenya, takes it on, together with subplots involving terrorism and blended cultures. The protagonist is a social outcast named Ayaana who is of Chinese ancestry. The Indian Ocean functions almost like a character, as when a Chinese admiral loses his ships in its capacious depths; it also serves as Ayaana’s spiritual companion on her journey.
Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides, by Adam Nicolson
Nicolson’s father bought a tiny Scottish island in 1937 and eventually gifted it to his 21-year-old son. This dreamy memoir is a meditation on what it means to own land, how to engage with the natural world and on loneliness. And yes, before you finish, you will be googling small islands for sale.
In the Great Outdoors
The Overstory, by Richard Powers
This winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction will introduce you to trees around the world and their complex connections with humans. Powers’ 12th novel began when he experienced a spiritual conversion after encountering one of the last giant trees in Northern California. Something about its towering height spoke to him, and he recognized it as being in the league of those great trees used to build Silicon Valley and San Francisco. In a collection of interwoven stories, you’ll encounter trees in the most surprising places and even track a fable told from the perspective of a survivor of the Stanford University prison experiment. Power’s writing is as picturesque and straightforward as a camping trip, and it may well be the closest thing to being outdoors these days.
Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood, by Tony Hillery
This picture book is inspired by Hillery’s real-life experience starting an urban farm to address food insecurity for inner-city youths. The illustrations by Jessie Hartland (of Steve Jobs: Insanely Great fame) will no doubt bring the giggles to both you and your child. The spreads open up like a giant “Where’s Waldo?” search, only everything takes place in Harlem. When our child protagonist, Nevaeh, first finds the lot, she calls it “the haunted garden,” and Hillery fires readers’ imaginations with descriptions of shattered bottles and collapsed couches. Still, Nevaeh sees potential, and with some TLC, she and her community transform the lot into an urban oasis.
The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert offers an incisive look at contemporary American male identity as she explores the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway, who left home at 17 for the Appalachian Mountains. For more than two decades, he lived on the rolling slopes, wearing skins from animals he’d hunted and trying to convince others to renounce their materialistic ways and return to nature. The book challenges our assumptions about what it means to be a modern man in America.
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
This best-selling work of nonfiction is the author’s personal account of the events leading up to and during the 1996 Mount Everest disaster that claimed five lives. Krakauer invites readers to journey with him as he delineates every detail of what’s necessary when trying to summit Everest. As the story reaches its climax, he depicts the limitations of the human mind when deprived of oxygen and reveals the terrifying reality he experienced when actions were driven by the fight-or-flight response. This book also raises questions about who and how many should be allowed to climb Everest when the stakes are so high.
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
A harrowing story of survival, Lord of the Flies explores the space between boyhood and manhood, between boundaries and the boundless, between the governed and the ungoverned. The novel seeks to answer age-old questions about the human condition: Do boys grow up to be different from their fathers or the same? Is violence an inherent part of human nature? When should you root for the underdog? And are some people born leaders?
Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, by Henry Miller
You don’t need to be a Miller fan to appreciate his memoir of the time he spent living in Big Sur on the California coast. At its heart, this book is about deliberately chosen isolation and immersing yourself in nature. A salve for anyone who has battled loneliness during the pandemic and a reminder that, for generations, mankind has removed itself and in doing so found self-realization and beauty. It’s also a fantastic portrait of a place.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
This account of Edward Shackleton’s expeditions to Antarctica in the early 20th century will make you wonder, dream, pray and hope as you travel on a journey that remains extremely difficult to make. As the title suggests, this book is ultimately about the will to survive. Endurance, a ship carrying 28 explorers, got trapped in ice that carried it far off course. The explorers were forced to survive with few provisions in subzero temperatures for two years, before inventive solutions helped them sail back to safety. This book will help convince you to never give up, no matter how daunting the challenge.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
If love is an adventure, Janie Crawford is an explorer you’ll want to know. This 1937 novel follows the teenage Janie as she learns what love means for a Black woman at the start of the 20th century. Her journey through three marriages as a light-skinned, long-haired, dreamy woman takes her on an expedition of self-discovery that helps her find her own voice.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd, is on a mission to find a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids. The source of his belief? A recurring dream that a fortune teller says points to the treasure. Santiago encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but, as you might have guessed, this allegorical tale is about following your dreams no matter what and reading the “omens” that appear along the way. Is Santiago’s dream accurate? Does he find the treasure? Read this best-seller to find out.
Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat, by Jonathan Kauffman
Up for a foodie adventure? This book goes back to the ’60s, from bustling Middle Eastern markets to quirky peacenik Seattle cafés. Along the way, it answers the questions you probably never thought to ask. Who created avocado toast? Kauffman’s tales lead readers to examine the role food played in the awakening of a generation and how that brown rice bowl you’re enjoying was once protest fuel. Turn up the volume on your favorite Jimi Hendrix album and cook up some flower-child staples.
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, by Anthony Bourdain
An adventure memoir, travel book and cookbook rolled into one, this Bourdain classic will take you around the world and uncover flavors that in these housebound times you can only dream of savoring. It’ll temporarily satisfy the wanderlust of travel lovers and inspire home cooks searching for adventure in their own kitchens. And if you’re already planning some post-COVID-19 trips, Bourdain has some spicy ideas for you to consider.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares
Follow the summer travels and adventures of four best friends whose individual stories are tied together by a single pair of magical jeans. Full of fleeting romances, summer jobs at Walmart and the cobalt-blue coastlines of Greece, Sisterhood is a novel you might well have read during adolesence. But summertime can often feel like a return to youth, and there are few better books with which to revisit those days.
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
If the book’s subtitle — Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics — doesn’t grip you, the unmatched cast of characters will: an eccentric coach, a tireless boatbuilding mentor, a crew of working-class young men. their rivals from elite universities and Adolf Hitler’s personal team on the waters of pre–World War II Germany. Root for the underdog American eight-oar team as they take gold in an event in which no one gave them a chance. You’ll all but feel the water on your face and the wind tearing through your hair as you grip this page-turner tighter than an oar.
Liners to the Sun: Ocean Cruising and Its History, by John Maxtone-Graham
How did cruising start? And how have some of the boldest, and stupidest, cruises formed part of the industry’s present? None of us will be taking a cruise when it’s likely we’ll end up quarantined on the ship and idling at sea because no one is willing to let you dock during a pandemic. Maxtone-Graham, a maritime historian and specialist in ocean liners and cruise ships, will take you back to carefree days in the history of ocean-bound cruising.
Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui
This poetic reflection on water, and what continues to bring us back to it, turns out to be about much more than swimming. As Tsui takes readers from a San Francisco swim club to Saddam Hussein’s palace pool, and introduces us to samurai swimmers in Japan and the human seal of Iceland, she also explores her personal relationship with the act of submergence. You’ll race through this work of reported nonfiction and surface gasping for air between chapters, before submerging yourself again.
Master & Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
The first of a 20-novel series set at the turn of the 19th century and focused on the exploits of British Navy Capt. Jack Aubrey and his friend and ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin. Not unlike Moby Dick, the descriptions of sails and ropes, sheets and yardarms can be dizzying for those of us unfamiliar with nautical terms, but the effect is to put you right in the middle of the action — you can almost feel the salt spray hit your face. There are clashes with the French navy, international intrigue and memorable characters (for those who saw movie adaptation, picture Russell Crowe in the lead role).
Hit the Road
The Road Trip Book: 1,001 Drives of a Lifetime, by Daryl Sleath
There’s something about getting behind the wheel with thousands of miles ahead of you that dissolves everything else in the world. Sleath’s book is a road trip bible, encapsulating many of the most breathtaking, extraordinary and fun road trips the world has to offer. The global routes featured vary in length and level of challenge, with details about distance, start and finish points, must-see stops, detours and more to help you plan an unforgettable trip for when you’re ready to hit the road again.
The Red Car, by Marcy Dermansky
When our unlikely protagonist, Queens resident Leah, inherits a red sports car from her boss, the opportunity to travel to San Francisco to retrieve it is just what she needs to escape from a life of unfulfilled ambitions and a loveless marriage. There’s an aimlessness to Leah’s journey, but her desire to claim the prize of a lifetime is one readers will identify with, as you root for her every mile along the way.
The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America, by Mike McIntyre
This isn’t your traditional road trip through vast plains and open country. Instead it’s a memoir about a hitchhiker, author Mike McIntyre, who, after realizing that his life is passing by while he toils in an unfulfilling job, decides to trek across the country with nothing more than the clothes on his back. He relies on strangers to help him weather the roads without money, food or lodging, and it’s the stories those strangers share with him that are perhaps the greatest acts of generosity.
This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This isn’t a road trip novel in the traditional sense, because it’s a journey through space and time. But those might well be the trips our grandchildren are taking decades from now, so really, it’s good to get prepped. It’s also a grand romance and an epistolary tour de force about two superbeings chasing each other all around the universe.
The Shooting Star: A Girl, Her Backpack and the World, by Shivya Nath
A true story in the truest sense. At age 23, Nath quit her corporate job, sold her possessions and gave up her permanent address — answering the call to wander. Her journey takes her from India, her homeland, to Ecuador’s Amazon rainforests via Himalayan villages as she unlearns everything that she thought was true about the world. Nath immerses himself in myriad cultures through conversations and experiences you’ll wish you could emulate. “The fear bred by the news compels people to stay at home — trapped in a shrinking comfort zone,” she writes. That’s true for so many of us. Nath chose a different path. After reading this book, you might too.
Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing, by Erika Lopez
Take a deep breath — because once you start your ride with Tomato Rodriguez on her motorcycle, there’s no stopping. This sea-to-shining-sea, all-girl adventure from New Jersey to San Francisco is stream-of-consciousness writing at its best, and takes you through Rodriguez’s journey of self-discovery about race (she is half Puerto Rican and spent her early childhood in West Virginia), sibling rivalry and sexuality. What makes the novel even more intriguing are the retro ink stamp artwork and faded fonts that’ll make you feel like you’re reading a diary.
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Some people might not think of this iconic book as a road story. But then, not all road trips are fun. Humbert Humbert’s sexual relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter has sparked endless debate and controversy while also inspiring movies, plays and even a song by Lana Del Rey.
Travels with Herodotus, by Ryszard Kapuściński
The late, great Polish journalist — known as “maestro” in the community of foreign correspondents who emerged after World War II — published this reflection on his journeys across Europe to India and Africa, all the while juxtaposing his travels with that of Herodotus, the Greek historian. Part memoir, part examination of a journalist’s role and a writer’s development, this book is a lovely companion wherever one might go … or stay, amid a pandemic that may keep our bodies grounded yet shouldn’t keep our souls from taking flight with masterpieces like this.
The Map of Salt and Stars, by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
The Syrian American author’s debut novel is about a young girl, Nour, whose family moves from Manhattan to Syria just before the start of the brutal civil war, turning her into a refugee. With nuance and heart, Joukhadar’s book depicts two parallel journeys, highlighting the connections between the importance of the stories we tell and the maps of our memories and minds.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson
This fantastical tale ties in key moments of 20th-century history with the state of the world today. It’s told through the life of Allan Karlsson, who, just shy of his 100th birthday, slips out the window of his retirement home and takes a bus heading as far away as possible — only to end up trapped in a whirlpool of crime, with drug lords and cops chasing him, and an elephant and a Djibouti-bound container saving him. Swedish brilliance at its best.
New York City
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer
Greer won the Pulitzer for his beautiful, funny, heartbreaking novel Less. This earlier work — a time travel fantasy set in the 1980s — is an unforgettable love letter to New York City through the years. Grieving Greta Wells, who has lost her brother to AIDS, finds herself cycling through multiple past lives and trying to fix those other timelines when she can’t fix her own.
Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk
Part memoir of a family and part meditation on culture, this is a story of the conflict between East and West, told through the city itself. Pamuk’s writing is unparalleled, symmetrical and subtle. Most of all, the book will make you long for Istanbul — the frescoes of Hagia Sophia, the cobbled streets of Balat — even if you’ve never been there. There’s no better travel guide, especially when you can’t visit the actual city.
Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
This coming-of-age story follows 25-year-old Emira, a Black woman in Philadelphia who works as a nanny for the tightly wound Alix. Their parallel lives tell a smart, insightful story of racial microaggressions, of a Black woman finding herself and of a white woman trying to use her nanny in spiritually unethical ways.
The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy
Pink-haired bohemian American-in-Paris Sally Jay Gorce sounds like the kind of person you would hate to meet at a party, but in author Elaine Dundy’s hands, she’s delightful and clueless in all the right ways. Her jaunts around Paris will make you feel as though you’re with her, and making all the same dumb decisions. This 1958 classic is based on Dundy’s own experiences in the City of Light.
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This story within a story follows Daniel Sempere as he spends his whole life investigating vanished Julián Carax, the author of a mysterious book The Shadow of the Wind. Filled with twists and tension, this is also a whirlwind tour through the streets of Barcelona (and the cavernous secret library Zafón hides beneath it) as you follow corrupt cops, faceless men and everything else the author throws at you.
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This Pulitzer Prize winner is not only a sprawling and gorgeous family epic but also the story of Detroit from its heady days as the king of auto manufacturing through decades of collapse. While the novel begins in a tiny Greek village overlooking Mount Olympus, much of the story explores the evolution of Motor City and the race riots of 1967, told through the eyes of its intersex narrator. There’s beauty in every sentence, and you may find yourself rereading it to catch every insight.
My Sister the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
This thriller of a debut novel is as packed full as Lagos, the city in which it is set and where its author was born. The bustling energy and traffic jams for which Nigeria’s capital is renowned make regular appearances. This darkly comic story of two sisters — their rivalry and their love — has been optioned for the movie, but don’t wait until it hits the big screen to get to know the characters.
The Hairdresser of Harare, by Tenda Huchu
This novel is deeply entwined with the Zimbabwean capital’s socioeconomic inequalities. Protagonist Vimbai may be a single mother without support from her family, but she maintains a rich and fulfilled life that sheds light on both the macroculture of Harare, still struggling with the aftermath of colonialism, and the everyday goings-on of its denizens. As in many good novels, the protagonist’s world is turned upside down when a stranger enters her life.
Second Person Singular, by Sayed Kashua
Tariq and Samaah are Arab Israeli lawyers trying to juggle their community’s identity and their efforts to assimilate in a society where they’re often looked at with suspicion. It’s a powerful and ultimately uplifting tale that’s as much about Jerusalem and its unique character as it is about its protagonists. You shouldn’t need a reason to visit — or dream of visiting — one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. But if you need that extra push, read Kashua’s masterpiece.
Five Star Billionaire, by Tash Aw
Few cities capture China’s rough ride through the political convulsions of the 20th century to its present-day economic might quite like Shanghai. And almost no book will give you a more vivid, colorful yet realistic look at China’s “City of Dreams” than this novel about five Malaysian Chinese expats trying to make it big in Shanghai.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
The smile will not leave your face. That’s a guarantee if you pick up this series of novels in which 34-year-old Precious Ramotswe takes on detective work in Botswana’s capital city of Gaborone. From cheating husbands to a cook who’s being blackmailed, nothing and no one is beyond Ramotswe. With humor enlivening every page, this series is unlike any other detective fiction you’ve read. Before you know it, you’ll be in love with Gaborone and Botswana.