If your New Year’s resolutions include reading more books, you’re in luck. Below, find the best books for travelers to read this month, from a buzzy debut to a DIY self-care workbook.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This anticipated debut centers around Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old babysitter struggling to make ends meet, and Alix, the wealthy woman she works for. One night while Emira, who is black, is watching Alix’s young daughter, who is white, a security guard accuses her of kidnapping the child. Emira acts quickly to diffuse the misunderstanding—but not before a bystander catches the confrontation on his phone. Though Emira is eager to forget what happened, the dramatic event sparks a change in Alix and Emira’s working relationship. Reflecting on themes of race, class, friendship, and romance, Reid has written a page-turner for our time, one that you can speed through in a day but will likely mull over for much longer.
Pick Me Up: A Pep Talk for Now & Later by Adam J. Kurtz
Spend your next layover doing something for yourself, like making your way through artist and author Adam J. Kurtz’s hope-filled workbook. On each page of this journal-like paperback, Kurtz offers a quick writing or drawing prompt—like, “draw your guts, then try to trust them” or “write down advice you gave recently that you might need yourself.” You’re encouraged to flip to a random page and fill out what speaks to you, put it down, then give it a whirl a little later. Thanks to Kurtz’s deadpan humor and playful illustrations, you won’t find yourself drowning in self-help cliches; instead, you’ll soon be the owner of a custom book of self-knowledge and encouragement to revisit anytime you need a boost.
The First Bad Man: A Novel by Miranda July
Later this month, filmmaker and recent Instagram artist Miranda July will share her third film, Kajillionaire, at the Sundance Film Festival. Now would be a great time to revisit her strange and spectacular 2011 novel about an anxious woman named Cheryl who leads a rich fantasy life. Cheryl spends her days working at a nonprofit that creates self-defense videos for women and crushing on an unattainable colleague. She revels in her self-ordered life until she’s called to play host to her bosses’ daughter. Though their relationship waffles between rage and tenderness, it unlocks something visceral within Cheryl that will change her life forever. It’s a surreal, playful, unexpected love story that will keep you guessing up until the very end.
Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
Min Jin Lee writes epic novels that truly take your breath away (perhaps you already know this if you’ve read her 2017 breakout Pachinko) and her 2007 debut Free Food For Millionaires is no different. It follows Casey Han during her post-college years as a first-generation Korean-American living in New York City as she straddles and navigates her two cultures. After her father kicks her out of the house for being disrespectfully un-Korean, she goes to her white boyfriend’s apartment to find him cheating on her, then finds herself spending a ton of money she doesn’t have on lavish hotels and designer clothing. Soon after, Casey reconnects with an old childhood friend who takes her in and tries to help Casey back on her feet (but not without snags and hiccups along the way). At almost 600 pages, this novel is a full-on, absorbing drama—ideal for travelers who like their reading material as intense and immersive as their trips. It’s an easy novel to get completely lost in.
Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks
Have you ever been so obsessed with a lifestyle so regional to an area that you simply had to visit and see it for yourself? For the late, great neurologist Oliver Sacks, he was all about ferns—and this book is a sweet collection of his journal entries from his 10-day trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, with fellow members of the American Fern Society. It is plant nerdery to the maximum, and the language is beautiful, passionate, emotional—and educational. Oaxaca, as it turns out, is home to over 700 species of ferns, which means that for Sacks and his botanist compatriots, this trip wasn’t so much an enthusiasm tour but a fern rager of sorts; there were plenty of dizzying hikes, fern doodling, learning Oaxacan history, and (of course) mezcal tastings. Oaxaca Journal is a great reminder that some of the most satisfying trips aren’t with your family or partner—it’s with geeks of your own kind, to a destination only you would understand.
Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi
This novel is the epitome of an only-in-New-York situation. There’s the 20-year-old Pablo, who’s a bit down on his luck, drowning in debt, and his only prospect is working the graveyard shift at a fancy 24-hour bodega in Brooklyn Heights. Then, there’s Leanna, a Selena Gomez-esque character who is a former child star and world-famous pop star. Alone in the bodega together at 4 a.m. during a massive blizzard, Leanna and Pablo strike up an unlikely kinship that slowly blossoms into a romance that immediately draws speculation. This book is undoubtedly a fun and wild journey, but it also doesn’t shy from real themes that young people deal with, including depression, assault, illness, and death. How does someone like Pablo deal with Leanna’s world of opulence, private planes, and paparazzi? This book tickles every kind of inner fantasy you might have of celebdom, and other close encounters of the famous kind.