We may have used up all our summer vacation time, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to keep venturing off into new, crazy places. We’ve mapped out a massive, 11-part trip, and it doesn’t even involve plane tickets or Dramamine. We’re talking about books, people, the great escapist kind that take you far away from everything you know. Here are 11 exhilarating reads that will definitely make you forget you’re still lying on a couch:
1. Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston
Sometimes, reinventing yourself and taking back your identity means getting on a plane and traveling to wherever. Follow Pam (the character, not the author) to the Kingdom of Bhutan, Spain, Argentina, and all across America, as she sheds her proverbial baggage once and for all.
Where’d You Go Bernadette is a story about an eccentric woman who disappears. Her daughter and best friend, Bee, is determined to find out what happened to her, and what pushed her over the edge. Semple hilariously depicts Seattle moms—who don’t wear makeup and grow their own kale—while also highlighting Bernadette’s crushing loneliness as she hires a life “assistant” who lives in India.
3. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
If you have a penchant for mythology, you will probably adore this book. A modern take on international mythology (Greek, African, American, etc.), American Gods is about what happens when the livelihood of the old gods (aka Odin, Easter, Anansi, etc.) is threatened by the new gods (aka Internet, Media, Television, etc.). It’s also about a guy named Shadow who is haunted by his dead wife, Laura, and how he plays a role in the war of the gods. You’ll travel along with him as he visits unknowingly magical parts of America.
4. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Middlesex is the story of Calliope Stephanides, a hermaphrodite who fears rejection from her family. Once they discover she is both male and female; she leaves and embarks on a dangerous journey of self-discovery. The book also focuses on the three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, a family that started out in a tiny village in Greece and end up in Detroit, Michigan. The book is beautiful, funny, exciting, and sad, so expect to be sobbing by the end of it.
5. The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forche
Carolyn Forche, who was a journalist living in El Salvador, writes poems about the country and its political turmoil. The violence, as well as the wonders Forche experiences are all conveyed in gorgeous poems, each filled with incredible imagery that juxtaposes ugliness with sincere beauty.
6. You Shall Know Our Velocity! By Dave Eggers
Eggers, founder of McSweeney’s and author of Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, wrote You Shall Know Our Velocity first, and it’s been a favorite of mine since college. Traveling to country after country after country, the protagonists, Hand and Will, do their best to shed $32,000. Egger’s prose is non-linear, eccentric, and very self-aware, so give yourself some time to truly enjoy the story.
7. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
If you’ve already seen the movie, you know what this book is about. But even if you have, you should read the book anyway, because it’s amazing and worth the literary journey. Life of Pi follows Pi Patel, a boy from Pondicherry, who must survive many, many days out in the open sea with animals from his father’s zoo. The spirituality and ideology behind the story makes it multi-dimensional and just so, so ethereal.
8. Emerald City by Jennifer Egan
You will travel to China, Kenya, and Bora Bora (for starters) when you read Emerald City, a book of short stories that focus on identity, humanity, teenage angst, self-love, and more. The author of A Visit From the Goon Squad (which you should totally read, too) and Pulitzer prize winner, Jennifer Egan delivers weird, funny, and cool stories that will stay with you forever.
9. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Set in Paris and then Spain, Hemingway’s “cubism” reads as sparse paragraphs that follow Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley, who drink and party their way out of their post-WWI disillusionment. Their relationship is messy, and every single character wears their flaws like fur coats, but that’s why I love this book so much (in fact, it’s my favorite Hemingway novel).
10. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri’s newest novel integrates her Indian heritage as she unravels a story about two brothers who grew up in Calcutta. They are as different as can be, and this difference paves two very diverging roads for them. One brother is a social activist who stays in India. He is a passionate man who follows his dreams, even though they may lead to poverty. The other brother leads a quiet life as a scientist in America. However, something happens that brings the latter brother back to India.
11. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is set in India, New Mexico, and Seattle, and follows Thomas Eapen, a man struggling with reality, and Amina Eapen, a photographer who has given up on her passions. The story, which is not in any way simple or one-dimensional, centers on a family—the secrets they keep and the distance between them.