Emma Straub's The Vacationers, set in Mallorca, is everything you want in a summer book, especially if you can't make it to Mallorca any time soon. Straub picked 10 books if you're not traveling this summer (or even if you are!).
I was one of those kids who always wanted extra reading assignments over the summer. It was my habit to burn through a book a day, sometimes more. No school? More time to read! I spent every July at summer camp, and in August, my family would often travel. At camp, I read in my bunk after we were supposed to be asleep, and with my parents, I read everywhere—in the car, on airplanes, at the dinner table. Some kids played sports, or went camping, or taught themselves how to skateboard—I just read.
A good book is the cheapest form of transportation there is. You can go to Mars, to Maine, to the Mezozoic era, fiction or non. I vividly remember reading a book when I was about twelve, and the character lived in a building in my neighborhood. Whenever I walked by, I thought, oh, my friend lives in there. I might not have summered in Sag Harbor, but I read Colson Whitehead’s book, and so now I feel like I have.
Now that I have a family of my own, we almost never go on vacation—whenever we travel, it’s for book events, or other professional reasons. The last time my husband and I went on a full-on vacation, it was our honeymoon, now almost six years ago. So this summer, when I’m sitting at home, I’m going to try to recapture that feeling of empty days and endless pages. Luckily for me, there are scores of books that mimic the feeling of a summer vacation, that practically smell of ice cream and suntan lotion.
10. In the Woods by Tana French - No one said that summertime books need to be peppy! Tana French is my favorite contemporary mystery novelist. All of her books take place in and around Dublin, Ireland, and she does an amazing job of making the city a character in each book. As a new mom, I treasure my sleep, but Tana French writes the kinds of books that force you to read just one chapter…and then another.
9. The Fun of It, Stories from the Talk of the Town edited by Lillian Ross - If you’re like me, you have six months worth of the New Yorker sitting on your coffee table, unread. When I finally do get around to those back issues, I go straight for the Talk of the Town, and then they usually go back on the pile. Instead of leafing through all those pages, why not go straight to the source? Read this for an hour and you’ll feel like you’ve been uptown, downtown, all around the town.
8. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link - Maybe because summer used to connect years of school, transforming you from a 9th grader into a 10th grader and so on, it has always felt, well, magic. Kelly Link’s stories are equally transformative, and exciting. Read it if you’d rather be vacationing inside a magical handbag.
7. Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford - This biography of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay is such a sexy read, it would be a shame to read it while wearing several layers of clothing. It’s the perfect book if you want to stay intellectual while sitting in an inflatable pool in your living room.
6. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos - I read this hilarious novel on an airplane and laughed the entire time, so much so that my fellow passengers probably thought I had some sort of disorder. The basis for the Marilyn Monroe film you may have seen, but even better. A good choice if your preferred vacation would take place on a ship.
5. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer - I didn’t know I was waiting for the perfect summer camp novel, but I was, until last year, when this came out. Wolitzer has long been one of my very favorite novelists, and this book—effortless, enormous, completely satisfying—is her best.
4. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright - There’s something about new-fangled religions that is endlessly fascinating. This story behind the creation and subsequent machinations of Scientology will make you glad that you’re not cloistered away in a fortress in Florida.
3. Arcadia by Lauren Groff - I will admit to having fantasies about running off to live on a commune. Groff’s brilliant second novel both makes me think that I should and, ultimately, probably shouldn’t. This is a great book to read if your vacation daydreams take you to upstate New York where you want to do nothing but smoke pot and bake bread.
2. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst - Sprawling enough to make you feel like you’re on vacation for decades, if not generations, this gorgeous novel feels almost hypnotizing. Good if your fantasy vacation takes you to posh country houses in the English countryside.
1. Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky - This dark and hilarious novel takes you to Paris and the south of France. Glamorous! But is it a version of Paris you actually want to go to? Not really—it’s about a nanny who sleeps with the husband and runs off with the baby. Which is why it’s great to read if you’re stuck at home, with your slumbering family within reach.