There is an open suitcase on the floor. It’s black interior calls to me, waiting to be filled for a flight that I will board in four weeks. What gives me the most anxiety is not that I still need to pack clothing, make sure I have my toiletries or appropriate walking shoes. No, what gives me anxiety is having to decide on vacation reading.
It’s not a bad problem to have. After all, you may be visiting a beautifully curated and distinctly unique independent bookstore where you’re headed, and the odds of you finding at least one bookseller is pretty high, but you have your books you want to read. You have a list.
And, if you don’t, here are some solutions for how to pack vacation reading:
1. Pack One Long Book
Sometimes vacations are ideal for one long book. Whether you decide that your twelve hour flight is the perfect time to dive into War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, or you simply want to start with a longer contemporary work you’ve been meaning to read for a while, you’ll probably have some time at some point, even if it’s just when you’re actually moving from one place to the next.
The problem is that if you don’t like the book, you’re not going to have many alternatives on your flight, although you may find a bookseller in the airport or near your hotel.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This highly acclaimed novel by multiple award-winning author Anothony Doerr is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize. It’s a story about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as they try to survive the devastation of World War II. Sounds intriguing, right?
Really, if you haven’t read this book yet, do. Anthony Doerr’s sentences “never fail to thrill.”
A Little Life by Hanya Tanagihara
Winner of the Kirkus Prize, finalist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, and National Book Award Finalist, A Little Life follows four college roommates as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. The friends are held together by their devotion to the enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by unspeakable childhood trauma.
A hymn to brotherly bonds, A Little Life is a depiction of families – both the ones we are born into and the ones we make ourselves.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Recipient of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into a dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica’s history. Set on December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions, this was also the night when seven gunmen stormed the singer’s house, machine guns blazing.
The attack wounded Marley, his wife and manager, injuring several others. Little was officially released, but much has been whispered and gossiped about the incident. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters from gunmen and drug dealers to CIA Agents and ghosts, over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston and crack houses of New York in the 80s, only to reemerge in the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s.
This gripping and inventive novel shows that no one can really escape fate.
Seveneves by Neil Stephenson
This tome made it onto Obama’s reading this year. A sci-fi novel set five thousand years after a catastrophic event rendered the Earth a ticking time bomb, the progeny of outer space explorers – seven distinct races now three billion strong – are about to embark on the unknown.
Specifically, a journey to a word transformed by the cataclysm and time: Earth.
2. Pack Several Thinner Books
Thin books are great because they don’t waste a single word. When looking to them for vacation reading, you can pack two or three of varying genres without schlepping your entire bookshelves to go through airport security.
Just make sure you don’t go over the weight limit! It’s probably better to weigh your luggage before departure if you’re going to go this route.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize comes in at 208 pages and just over half an inch thick. This story details what happens when Yeong-hye decides to give up eating meat and the effects it has on her marriage and the resulting estrangement from her husband, sister and brother-in-law.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
This sci-fi novel is the first installment of The Southern Reach Trilogy. Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades and Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. We join the twelfth expedition into Area X, a group made up of four women: an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and a biologist.
Their mission is to map the terrain and record their observations of their surroundings. They discover massive topographical anomalies and life forms that surpass understanding, but it’s the secrets that have come across the border with them that could change everything.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
This thin book delivers prose that is both witty and haunting at the same time. Lev and Koyla are prisoners of war in Lenigrad during WWII ,and they have been given the chance to earn their freedom by securing a dozen eggs for a high-ranking colonel’s daughter’s wedding.
Benioff is a screenwriter for Game of Thrones and the story is both action packed and character driven. The relationship between Koyla and Lev and their unlikely circumstances drive this story towards its conclusion and makes it an entertaining read.
Everything I Never Told You by Celese Ng
For fans of The Lovely Bones, this is an extremely packable book that was named the best book fo the year by NPR, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly among others.
The story of a Chinese American family living in small-town Ohio in the 1970s. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, but when her body is found in a local lake, the balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed. A story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait.
3. Pack A Collection of Short Stories
Easily digestible shorter pieces mean that you can read one section and then take a break and chat up whoever might be sitting next to you on the flight. These breaks also mean that you can look up occasionally and admire the beautiful scenery around you, which is ideal for vacation reading.
You may miss the thrill of a longer plot that you’ll need to unravel, but you may also find some amazing new voices that you’ve never heard of before.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Kelly Link has been praised by Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman as a bewitchingly original writer and a national treasure. In her first short story collection in nearly a decade, Link takes readers through an unforgettable and brilliantly constructed fictional universe. This short story collection features hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, ouija boards, iguanas, superheroes, and even pyramids.
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Mayhew Bergman is a prizewinning young author whose first collection explores the lives of intrepid women in history. The result is a collection of stories as fierce as the woman who inspired them. This work offers a close look at intimacy and power struggles and shows a multiplicity of the female experience throughout history.
The Unfinished World by Amber Sparks
A mad scientist of fiction, Amnber Sparks puts fourth a weird and wonderful collection of stories that cover the apocalyptic, otherworldly, any hauntingly familiar scenes. Populated with sculptors, librarians, astronauts, and warriors, the unique cast of characters in these go on mythic, bizarre and deeply moving adventures.
Tenth of December by George Saunders
This National Book Awarad Finalist includes a variety of brilliant written and profoundly original stories about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair and war. These stories cut to the heart of the human experience, draw the fault lines of our own morality and delve into the questions of what makes us human.
4. Load Up on Audiobooks
Planning on going for a leisurely walk around the resort, or maybe you can’t imagine reading for several hours straight on a flight? Audio books are a good solution. Load your phone or preferred music player with a few audio books and lose yourself in the story.
As an added bonus, you can switch between an e-book and a audio book with WhisperSync from Amazon, if that appeals to you.
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
This novel of suspense details the story of the sole surviving victim of The Black-Eyed Susan Killer, in the days leading up to his execution. After deciding to cooperate with a team of attorney’s to exonerate the man she helped put on Death Row, Tessa Cartwright examines her own past and memories to try and figure out what really happened the night she ended up in a field with the body of a dead college girl and the bones of two other victims.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
If you have always wanted to read Tolstoy’s masterpiece you may like this new version released by audible. Maggie Gyllenhaal narrates the book with a quiet cadence that is both soothing and masterful. Plus it’s over thirty-five hours long, so you will have plenty of material for your vacation.
The Nix by Nathan Hill
In Nathan Hill’s debut novel, a Nix is anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart. It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson, college professor and stalled writer, has a Nix of his of his own. His mother, Faye, who he hasn’t seen for decades, reappears, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news beguiles the internet, and inflames a politically divided country.
To save her, Samuel has to embark on his own journey to uncover long-buried secrets about her and, in the process, will have to relearn everything he thought he knew about both his mother and himself.
The Mandibles, A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver
This near-future novel explores the aftermath of an economically devastated US sovereign debt default on four generations of once-prosperous American family.
In 2029, the value of the international exchange rate plummets and is replaced by a new global currency, the “bancor.” To retaliate, the president declares that America will default on it’s loans.
As a “Deadbeat Nation,” America is unable to borrow, and the government prints money to cover its bills. What little remains for savers is rapidly eaten away by inflation.
The Mandibles have been counting on a sizable inheritance that will filter down when their 97-year-old patriarch dies. But when the inheritance turns to ash, each family member must contend with disappointment and the challenge of survival.
5. Choose a Genre That You Haven’t Read Before
If you are going on vacation to get away from it all, you may want to chose a genre you don’t read much of. Of course, you should enjoy your vacation reading, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try a book that is out of your comfort zone.
The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal
This novel has delighted French audiences and has now been translated into English.
Just before dawn on a Sunday morning, three teenage boys go surfing. When they return home, the exhausted driver lets the car drift off the road and into a tree. Two of the boys are wearing seat-belts, but the third is sent through the windshield and declared brain dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Taking place over a twenty-four hour period, The Heart tells the story of a fatal accident and the resulting transplant as the heart of this kid is given to a woman close to death. Told through ruminative prose this is an emotional, explosive story unlike any other you’ll read.
Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
This poignant and surprising memoir from Padma Lakshmi explores how food is an extension of how we love, how we comfort, and how we forge a sense of home. Long before she set foot on a television set, Padma Laskshmi shuffled between continents as a child. She never felt quite at home in the world, but through all her travels her favorite food remained the rice she first ate siting on the cool floor of her grandmother’s kitchen in India.
Lakshmi accounts her journey from that humble kitchen to the judges’ table on Top Chef and beyond, with unbridled devotion to the remarkable people who shaped her along the way.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
If you want to try reading a graphic novel, you may like this groundbreaking one, detailing a coming of age story set against the Midwestern winterscape. Craig and Raina fall in love at a winter church camp and reveal to one another their struggles with faith and their dreams of escape, as personal demons resurface. With vibrant brushstrokes and unique page designs, Blankets is not only a visual but a literary delight.
You Were Here by Cori McCarthy
Love the visual element of graphic novels, but not quite sure you can commit? Consider packing Cori McCarthy’s latest young adult novel on your next vacation.
Jaycee is about to accomplish what her older brother Jake couldn’t: live past graduation and she dealing with that fact as only she can, be re-creating Jake’s daredevil stunts. Jaycee doesn’t expect to find help in the form of unlikely friends, all with their own reasons for completing the dares and their own brand of dysfunction.
This motley crew, includes her ex-best friend, a heartbroken poet, a slacker with Peter Pan syndrome, and Mik. Although Mik doesn’t talk, he gets Jaycee to open up in ways she thought she left behind when she buried her brother.
Told in a mix of art and narrative, this is the perfect compromise for someone who loves visual and literary books, without tackling a graphic novel.
6. Pack a Book of Essays
Similar to selecting a collection of short stories, a collection of essays is easily packable and can be read in short spurts. However, there are also several essay collections that are both entertaining and have a grasp of current events, so you will return from your vacation more knowledgeable.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
If you haven’t heard of this book we have one question for you: Where have you been the last two years?
This collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism comes from one of the most-watched cultural observers of her generation. Gay’s funny and insightful essays take readers on a journal of her evolution as a woman of color, while also taking a ride through the pop culture of the last few years, and commenting on feminism today. The result is a portrait of an insightful woman continually growing to understand herself, our society, and culture.
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
Melissa Broder has always struggled with anxiety. After going through a cycle of panic attacks and dread that wouldn’t abate for months, she started @sosadtoday, an anonymous Twitter that allowed her to express her darkest feelings.
This collection of essays delves deeper into the existential themes she explores on Twitter. They grapple with issues of sex, death, love, low self-esteem addiction, and the drama of waiting for the universe to text you back in prose that is ballsy and beautiful.
Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti
A collection of seventeen wide-ranging essays from one of the most original and emphatic writers are collected for the first time. Displaying Paterniti’s full literary powers Love and Other Ways of Dying ponders subjects of happiness, grief, memory, and the redemptive power of human connection.
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
This collection of essay from double Hugo Award-winning essayist talks about feminism, geek culture, and Hurley’s personal insights as a genre writer in an unapologetically outspoken fashion.
7. Pack an E-Reader
Ah, the light and very packable e-reader. You can load hundreds of titles onto them and the batteries lasts for weeks at a time.
Then you have services like BookBub, who provide you with daily emails for titles in a variety of genres that interest you. In the coming weeks, you can sign up for these emails and score some reasonably priced back-ups should your physical books fail you.
However, you may still want to pack a real book since you have to turn the device off for take-off and landing.
Note: E-Book deals change all the time. These are a couple notable bargains we spied recently, but you should always check and make sure they are still valid.
The Vanishing Girl by Laura Thalassa
In the first book of the Vanishing Girl Series, Laura Thalassa introduces us to Ember, a girl with the ability to teleport within the first ten minutes of sleep. On her eighteenth birthday, Ember is recruited into a secret government project where she finds out that she is not alone and that teleporters are being used a weapons.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Rob is a pop music junkie and owner of a semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, and her terrible taste in music, just dumped him for the guy upstairs, leaving Rob both miserable and relieved. He seeks comfort in his clerks and tries dating a singer, but then he sees Laura again, and Rob begins to think that a life with kids, marriage, barbecues, and soft rock CDs may not be as bad as he thought.
The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad
Frank Rath turned in his detective badge to become a private investigator and raise his daughter alone. He thought he was done with murder, living in the remote rural community of Canaan, but then the police find an ’89 Monte Carlo abandoned on the side of the road. The beautiful teenage girl who owned the car has disappeared without a trace.
The ensuing investigation brings him face-to-face with the darkest abominations of the human soul and brings to light his violent and painful past, leading him to discover that even in the most remote towns, evil still lurks and no one is safe.
Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman
This coming-of-age novel tells the story of a young Jewish woman returning to her Alabama hometown after a semester at a “Yankee College.” In this beautiful example of of Southern fiction, she finds that life, and herself, haven’t really changed in the ways she’s hoped. It addresses provocative issues like anorexia, family dynamics, and the racial and ethnic tensions of the Deep South.
After mulling this over, I still haven’t solved my packing conundrum. There is still a pile of books and a suitcase waiting to be filled.
When you go on your next trip, what are you likely to pack in your luggage? Do you fall into one of these seven types of vacation readers? Let us know in the comments below!