You’ve packed your clothes. You’ve zipped up your toiletries. Now the age-old question: What book should you bring? Perfect for long flights, layovers, beach time, or, say, to wile away an afternoon at a Parisian cafe, a book is truly the perfect travel companion.
It’s no wonder travelers are always in search of their next great read. Each month, Jinnie Lee and Maura Lynch, who together run STET, a website devoted to emerging writers and new books, present a few titles—some new, some that just feel relevant right now—that are worth bookmarking for your next trip.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
One of the simple joys of traveling alone is being able to quietly observe the people around you. The narrator of this novel, a writing instructor, does exactly that while solo-traveling from the UK to Athens, where she’s set to teach a summer course. We don’t learn much about the narrator’s personal life, but it’s clear there’s internal stuff she’s working through, just based on how she aims to absorb and understand the complicated lives of the random characters she meets along her trip. She treats these brief encounters with non-judgemental warmth as these strangers divulge her with their best-kept secrets. Isn’t it funny how passersby tend to get overly honest like that? If, by the finale, your voyeuristic self still longs for more tales of humanistic trials, the next two novels in this trilogy, Transit and Kudos, will further satisfy.
Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt
For those who prefer to be entertained by pictures rather than words, there are plenty of delightfully gross and bizarre things to look at in this comic book. Rather than follow a straight narrative, Hot Dog Taste Test is like a dense scrapbook of the weirdnesses inside the illustrator’s brain, most of which prod at foodie culture. (For example, in a visual guide on how to choose a wine, Hanawalt identifies red as “good for fights” and white as ideal for having “a good cry.”) However, the illustrations get way more volatile from there—which is to be expected from the artist who eventually went on to produce/design the surreal Netflix animated show BoJack Horseman and create the similarly absurd Tuca & Bertie. Needless to say, this book’s meant to be savored.
Severance by Ling Ma
Ling Ma’s layered debut is both a workplace drama and an apocalyptic survival tale, injected with refreshing depth and warmth. It centers on Candace, a young woman with a publishing job who finds herself in the midst of a global epidemic. A fever that turns regular people into robot-like zombies has taken over the world, but for some reason Candace remains immune. As the novel progresses, we get to know Candace’s backstory—her immigrant parents, her early years in NYC, and, eventually, her journey to joining a motley crew survivors. One might say it’s a zombie novel for people who think they don’t like zombie novels—and a damn good one, too.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
A vacation getaway can be extremely conducive for lust, especially if your love life back at home has gotten stale. In this novel by Twitter-perfect poet Melissa Broder, a brokenhearted woman named Lucy flees town to dogsit for her sister in Venice. Since the timing seems opportune, Lucy cranks her sexual escapades into overdrive, though most of her hookups are terrible. But things start looking up when she chances upon a very hot merman whom she begins to obsess over, quickly, in an unhealthy way for someone who is also dealing with mental health issues. While "romantic" is not quite the best way to describe this "love" story, there's so much inventive half-human/half-fish rendezvous that the book is simply too much fun to put down. And, steaminess aside, The Pisces is also a generous portrayal of an unbalanced woman who journeys to make herself feel whole again—with or without a partner.
I'm Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves by Ryan O’Connell
You might have heard of Ryan O’Connell from his Netflix series, Special, an autobiographical retelling of his early 20s as a blogger who attempts to hide, and eventually makes peace with, his lifelong cerebral palsy. (Fun fact: He’s also the Celebrity Grand Marshal as this year’s Los Angeles Pride Parade.) If you’ve already binge-watched the series and looking for a quick, entertaining read that complements the show, his 2015 collection of essays delivers more of his signature wit and wisdom. In eleven chapters, O’Connell explores the wilds of urban Millennial existence: unpaid internships, coming out, prescription drugs, paying rent in New York, and of course, love in the age of Instagram. For all the fun he pokes at himself and his generation, O’Connell ends up giving his reader a welcomed pep talk, too.
Life of David Hockney: A Novel by Catherine Cusset
Anticipating a stay near a hotel pool, perhaps? In this novel, French author Catherine Cusset takes a deep dive into the life of the beloved A Bigger Splash painter, fusing biography and fiction with bits of imagined dialogue and inner thoughts. We follow Hockney as his world expands beyond his birthplace in Bradford, England, to art school in London. We tag along as he learns about free love in New York, and falls in love with a talented student in Los Angeles, and experiences both heartbreak and critical success in equal measure. Cusset shares a touching portrait of one our most thoughtful and unique modern painters, delivered in a slim paperback easily consumed with a tropical drink in hand.