Summer reads for quarantined travelers
For wanderlusts stuck at home, these new books and modern classics offer an escape
With summer approaching and many of us still hunkered down at home, the concept of a seasonal vacation seems like a pipe dream. Many of us will take solace in books, perhaps catching up on travel classics such as “Travels With Charley,” “On the Road,” or, if we’re feeling brave, “The Road” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Still, there are plenty of recent books and new classics that are perfect for travel-deprived readers with the no-vacation blues. It’s often said that the best books can transport us, and that’s just what the selections below will do.
“Lost Children Archive,” Valeria Luiselli
For those craving a road trip around the Southeast, Luiselli’s recent novel was based on a cross-country excursion she took with her own family in 2014. Starting in New York City and ending in the Arizona desert, Luiselli deftly weaves in present-day issues, with the narrator helping her own children understand the region’s violent past and current struggles with issues such as immigration. (400 pages; Alfred A. Knopf)
“Flights,” Olga Tokarczuk
Originally published in Tokarczuk’s native Poland in 2007, this engrossing, fragmentary collection of vignettes was recently translated and went on to win the Man Booker Prize. Although it was marketed as a novel, it’s more a collection of stories and observations that center on the concept of constant motion, from reflections on airports to a multi-chapter story about a tourist searching for his missing children. (416 pages; Riverhead Books)
“Death is Hard Work,” Khaled Khalifa
While a trip to Syria was surely not in readers’ current travel plans, Damascus-based writer Khalifa has penned a beautiful and heartbreaking story of three siblings on a cross-country road trip in order to bury their revolutionary father. The novel’s real strength is Khalifa’s ability to convey to readers a sense of just how much natural beauty the country has lost to civil war. (192 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“The Wangs vs. The World,” Jade Chang
Chang’s hilarious 2016 novel feels particularly prescient in these times, considering it’s set during the 2008 financial crisis and centers on a first-generation immigrant family traveling together across the country after losing their fortune. Told from the varying perspectives of each family member, the novel is already being adapted into a TV series. (384 pages; Mariner Books)
The Best American Travel Writing series, various contributors
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual collections compile the best articles published over the last year and with a rotating cast of guest editors (past guests include big names such as Susan Orlean, Jamaica Kincaid and Ian Frazier). This year’s collection also includes an article by San Diego-based writer Jackie Bryant about her experience on a “water drop” through the deserts of the U.S./Mexico border.
“On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey,” Paul Theroux
Probably best known for his 1981 novel “The Mosquito Coast,” Theroux has established himself as one of America’s foremost travel writers. His most recent book sees him recounting a 2,000-mile journey along the U.S./Mexico border. In the process, he humanizes the places most Americans consider off-limits or even dangerous, revealing them to be enlightening travel destinations. (448 pages; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Atlas Obscura series, various contributors
Speaking of unlikely travel destinations, that’s what online magazine Atlas Obscura has specialized in for over a decade. The company’s collected books — “An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders” and the youth-focused “Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid” — are filled with insightful tips and amazing pictures of inconspicuous locales. (Workman Publishing Company)
“Abandoned San Diego,” Jessica D. Johnson
The creator of the “Hidden San Diego” blog recently released this handy guide of local, under-the-radar destinations that, while deteriorated, are majestic in their decay. Because many of the featured spots are rarely crowded — such as the multiple spots along Old Highway 80 — this is the perfect book for wanderlusts who want to stick close to home. (96 pages; America Through Time)
“The Geography of Bliss,” Eric Weiner
The subtitle says it all: “One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” The NPR foreign correspondent globe-trots — from Iceland to Morocco and dozens of places in between — looking for solace. (345 pages; Twelve)
“AA Gill is Away,” A.A. Gill
In Britain, the late A.A. Gill is a household name, thanks to his snarky columns on TV and food. His travel writing is just as pugnacious in this collection of dispatches from places like war-torn Sudan and fashion week in Milan. (305 pages; Simon & Schuster)
“Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country,” Bill Bryson
Those who have always wanted to travel to Australia will find no better tour guide than Bill Bryson’s 2000 travelogue. It’s filled with first-hand accounts of all the major destinations, while weaving in fascinating historical information. (352 pages; Broadway Books)
Combs is a freelance writer.
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