As summer begins, most of us will start to find our Instagram and Facebook feeds flooded with pictures of our friends’ vacations. From the historical downtowns of old European cities, to the crowded beaches of sunny islands, to the modern sleekness of freshly built resorts—they’ll be sojourning everywhere. However, somewhat depressingly, others of us don’t have a single trip on the calendar in the upcoming months. But never fear! We’ve rounded up five books that will allow you to take that vacation you so desperately need. If exotic travel just isn’t in the budget right now, pick up one of these summer reads and you’ll at least wind up feeling like you had one of those idyllic summer adventures that all of your friends seem to be having!
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
Synopsis: Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.
Where you’ll go: To Paris in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Walk along the Seine and through the Tuileries Garden. Wake up with the city’s morning deliveries and enjoy a fresh baguette and cup of coffee for breakfast. Sip that mid-day glass of wine at an outdoor café with a half a dozen like-minded people, and head to rolling parties after the sun sets in the evening. The perfect Parisian trip.
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
Synopsis: Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life—having nothing but his own wits to help him along.
Born in the dark heart of India, Balram gets a break when he is hired as a driver for his village’s wealthiest man, two house Pomeranians (Puddles and Cuddles), and the rich man’s (very unlucky) son. From behind the wheel of their Honda City car, Balram’s new world is a revelation. While his peers flip through the pages of Murder Weekly (“Love — Rape — Revenge!”), barter for girls, drink liquor (Thunderbolt), and perpetuate the Great Rooster Coop of Indian society, Balram watches his employers bribe foreign ministers for tax breaks, barter for girls, drink liquor (single-malt whiskey), and play their own role in the Rooster Coop. Balram learns how to siphon gas, deal with corrupt mechanics, and refill and resell Johnnie Walker Black Label bottles (all but one). He also finds a way out of the Coop that no one else inside it can perceive.
Balram’s eyes penetrate India as few outsiders can: the cockroaches and the call centers; the prostitutes and the worshippers; the ancient and Internet cultures; the water buffalo and, trapped in so many kinds of cages that escape is (almost) impossible, the white tiger. And with a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, Balram teaches us that religion doesn’t create virtue, and money doesn’t solve every problem — but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.
Where you’ll go: All across modern-day India. Start your journey in the slums of the rural village of Laxmangarh, then venture to the middle-class neighborhoods in New Delhi before finishing in the wealthy parts of Bangalore. You’ll see the dark side of the country as well as the glittering pinnacle of the culture. You’ll eat your weight in curry, drink perfectly brewed Chai and even take a rickshaw tour. It may not be the most glamorous tour of India, but it’s perfect for those who’d rather backpack through the country and experience it as it really is.
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
Synopsis: The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.
And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.
What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.
Where you’ll go: To the Italian coast. The teal-blue Ligurian sea will lull you to sleep in the evening and wake you again in the morning. You’ll fill your camera roll with Insta worthy shots of candy-colored houses and rough, jagged coastline. You’ll cruise out on the fishing boats, and take your lunch with the locals. After you have your fill of homemade pasta, you’ll sip a glass of good Italian wine on the patio and watch the sunset over the sea. There will be day trips along the way to Hollywood, Edinburgh, Seattle, Florence, Portland Oregon and Sandpoint, Idaho as well.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Synopsis: Leaving a broken marriage behind him, Sal Paradise (Kerouac) joins Dean Moriarty (Cassady), a tearaway and former reform school boy, on a series of journeys that takes them from New York to San Francisco, then south to Mexico. Hitching rides and boarding buses, they enter a world of hobos and drifters, fruit-pickers and migrant families, small towns and wide horizons. Adrift from conventional society, they experience America in the raw: a place where living is hard, but ‘life is holy and every moment is precious’.
Where you’ll go: On a road trip across America. From the foggy wharves of San Fransisco to the ghost town of Central City, Colorado to Laredo, Texas and Mexico City. Times Square in New York City and crawfish filled shacks in New Orleans are pit stops on the trip. You’ll spend a night on Skid Row in Detroit, see the arch in St. Louis and dip your feet in the ocean once or twice. If road trips are more your vacation jam, then this will be one for the books.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See
Synopsis: Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.
In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.
After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.
Where you’ll go: To China. Or, more specifically, to a remote mountain village in Yunnan province. You’ll get to experience the traditions of the indigenous Akha hill tribe—picking tea with them, celebrating the change of the seasons, dealing with the spirits and the alignment of humans to the earth— as well as experience more modern-day conveniences in Guangzhou. You’ll even spend some time in the mansions of L.A.!