As much as I love snuggling up with a good book all year round, summer is when my bookworm tendencies reach their absolute peak.
No trip is complete without a vacation read stashed in my bag, and poolside lounging really isn’t lounging at all if I’m not tearing through a novel in between umbrella-topped drinks.
That said, the best vacation reads do have to meet certain criteria. They can’t be so thick that they’ll weigh down my beach bag or carry on, and ideally, they’ll capture some kind of summertime nostalgia—think something that makes you desperately want to spend a summer in an Italian villa à la Call Me By Your Name. The following 10 books—some of which are new releases for this summer, and a few are oldies that deserve an honorable mention—all fit the bill, and span genres ranging from true crime to self-improvement. If you need me, I’ll be in the sun with my nose in one of these vacation reads for the foreseeable future.
image by hannah haston.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Rooney’s modern love story took the UK by storm when it was first released last summer, and now her tale of Connell and Marianne’s decades-long relationship has crossed the pond to similar acclaim. Be prepared to breeze through this one in a single afternoon—and keep tissues at the ready.
Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
I’m a card-carrying member of the Jeffrey Eugenides fan club (bonus recommendation: if you haven’t read Middlesex yet, add it to your list, ASAP) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s latest collection of short stories doesn’t disappoint. They’re perfect for dipping in and out of in between adventures while on vacation or before bed, and each reveal moving glimpses of modern American life.
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Choi’s latest novel follows David and Sarah, two freshmen falling in love within the bubble of an elite performing arts school. But when pressures of family life and economic status finally do penetrate the school’s walls, the narrative is flipped upside-down, revealing that David and Sarah’s love story is not all that it appeared to be on first glance. If you love a satisfying twist, this should be at the top of best vacation reads list.
True crime writer Casey Cep’s latest project is a revival of the true crime book Harper Lee worked on in the years following the publication of To Kill a Mocking Bird, but was never able to get quite right. Cep’s rigorously researched biography gives readers a glimpse into Lee’s private life, and the crime that enthralled her for decades. Fans of In Cold Blood (which Lee helped Truman Capote research) will particularly love this book.
Waisted by Randy Susan Meyers
If hearing people talk about getting “a summer body” makes your eyes roll (or gives you a blip of anxiety), Meyers’ provocative chronicle of seven women who sign up for an extreme weight loss program—only to revolt against its organizers—is just the kind of wildly entertaining, and seriously satisfying novel you need. (A suggested, much more serious follow-up? Hunger by Roxanne Gay.)
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Touted as the new Bridget Jones’s Diary, Queenie follows Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old Jamaican women living in London as she tries to navigate her place in two cultures she doesn’t slot into neatly. Expect hilariously bad breakups, sharp examinations of race and class, and plenty of soul searching from this vacation read.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
Though we’re firm supporters of the Girlboss and #hustle movements, sometimes it pays to slow things down—and way down at that—as artist and critic Jenny Odell argues. If you’re wondering if all of that Instagram scrolling or news-feed binging really is bad for you, this is the book to pick up (and it may just convince you to leave your phone at home next time you go on vacation, or anywhere, really).
Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz
Part-memoir, part-novel, Eve’s Hollywood is a delicious glimpse into the haute bohemian Hollywood scene of the 1960s and 70s. Babitz, who counts Joan Didion and Jim Morrison as contemporaries, is having a bit of resurgence at the moment and this is a great place to dive into her glamorous, tongue-in-cheek world.
Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
As an avid murderino, I’m counting down the days until the May 28th release of My Favorite Murder podcast hosts Karen Kilgariff’s and Georgia Hardstark’s dual memoir. Expect a deeper dive into the two’s formative memories, along with practical tips for how to advocate for your physical safety and mental health—all with the pair’s signature rip-roaring humor.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
Another one that made waves across the pond when it was published last summer, Dolly Alderton’s memoir is one of the best vacation reads for anyone heading on a girls’ trip this season. An ode to the power of female friendships, and all of the heartbreak and hilarity they endure, this will be one you come back to again and again.
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