Like most people who are time poor and struggle to fit in dedicated reading time, I find summer travel offers the perfect opportunity to decompress with a great book.
My summer travel reading list is usually a combination of titles recommended by friends and colleagues, new releases from some of my favourite authors, or writers who’ve been enthusiastically championed in the press and media.
Sometimes I’ll challenge myself to experience different cultural perspectives, like in 2022, when I made a conscious decision to spend the entire year only reading authors whose work was translated into English. Other times, I reach for familiar themes or try and make a dent in the long list of what I would typically read throughout the year, which increasingly these days is non-fiction.
For the big summer escape, I’m making a point to focus on narrative fiction in an attempt at losing myself inside the imagination of talented wordsmiths. This will certainly include revisiting some classics. Like an old friend, they tend to be warm and familiar, yet hopefully still have the capacity to surprise and delight you with a missed detail or a favourite passage.
So as we head into summer holiday season in the northern hemisphere, here’s my summer travel reading list for anyone interested in broadening their own reading habits:
A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee
Nowhere is fiction writing more exciting and dynamic than in the Indian sub-continent. One of the hallmarks of the literature I’ve encountered is the melding of tradition and the mystical, with portraits from modern life. ‘A State of Freedom’ was my initial gateway to India-focussed literature and it’s a book with such depth of thought that I often think about it still today.
The Life of Pi – Yann Martel
This is the book I give to all the young adult offspring of my friends and family. From themes of spirituality, hope, and trust, to the importance of hard work and having strong moral principles, I’m convinced it contains all the life lessons they need to navigate the world with awareness and empathy. It’s also a great beach read as you gaze out to blue waters, imagining the narrative playing out in front of you.
The Bees by Lalline Paul
This is a debut novel that fictionalizes the inner workings, intrigue, and drama of a working beehive. I like to think of it as an anthropomorphized study of a bee colony that draws parallels between the organizational dynamics you would encounter in any complex enterprise company. Flora is our lead protagonist, a bee that has worked her way up the chain to command power and respect, who we can all identify a part of ourselves within.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
As a third culture kid, identity and belonging, social discrimination and the immigrant experience are recurring themes I continue to seek out in literature. It’s a truth-seeking mechanism that helps me better understand myself through the shared experiences of other immigrants. The prose in this book is stunning, which is wholly expected from Ocean—a celebrated, award-winning poet.
The Beach by Alex Garland
I can still remember where I was and what I was doing the very first time I read this book. The fact that the plot revolved around a hidden utopian beach paradise, in one of my most favourite travel destinations (Thailand), was enough to give me serious wanderlust. The writing has a cadence and style that’s fresh and engaging, and I probably read this book every summer without fail.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Taking his main protoganist Arthur Less from the west coast of America, to Morocco, Germany, and Japan, Andrew Sean Greer does a commendable job at keeping things funny and entertaining. Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Less is a character study of what happens when you’re a single gay man turning 50 who thinks it’s all over.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
I’ve often selected books that have a strong undercurrent of food culture running through it, as I find it culturally enlightening and informative. I’ve been a fan of Korean cuisine for a while, and even though the central theme in this book is the process of anticipating and confronting the grief of a lost one, food is the recurring glue that binds the narrative together. A wonderful deconstruction of emotions and what happens when we’re running away from or running towards something.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Set in a dystopian world during an indistinguishable time period, we’re introduced to a group of young children who are attempting to make sense of the world around them and who they are as they transition to adolescence. It’s a sad, yet provocative novel that forces us to examine our own humanity. I love the conversational literary style of the narrator, as well as the unexpected revelations through-out the book that sometimes take your breath away.
Honorary works of non-fiction worth adding to your summer travel reading list:
Face It by Debbie Harry
As a long-time Blondie fan, I was ecstatic when Debbie announced she was releasing her autobiography. The book charts everything from growing pains to early days in New Jersey and how CBGB became the home of New York’s punk movement. The sections capturing that very specific point in time during the 70’s when Blondie were on the cusp of taking off, was like peering into a portal to a time when things were simpler and more authentic. Hugely enjoyable.
Quiet by Susan Cain
This one’s for all the introverts and the closet introverts masquerading as extroverts while they figure out their place in the world. I read this book about 10 years ago, and as an introvert, it had a deeply profound effect on my understanding of how I interpreted the world around me. The central message is that it’s OK to have quiet confidence, as well as offering tips and advice on how to navigate situational dynamics that often feel counter-intuitive to introverted personality types.
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