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.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Japanese author Sayaka Murata’s English-language debut takes only a couple hours to read, but it’s likely to stick with you much longer. At 36, narrator Keiko Furukura is treated by her family and friends as an outcast because she’s held the same seemingly dead-end convenience store job since her 20s and has yet to settle down, let alone date anyone. But why does that have to matter? She’s happy, and she has an almost otherworldly talent for her humble job. In this simple-yet-strange tale, Murata takes a closer look at societal norms, the pressure to conform, and the magic of finding one’s true calling.
Disappearing Earth: A Novel by Julia Phillips (out May 14, 2019)
Set on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far east Russia, Julia Phillips’ debut begins with a chill. Two young sisters disappear while off adventuring alone, and no one can seem to find them. Chapter by chapter, Phillips reveals how the girls’ disappearance has shaken the lives of their fellow townspeople, from the woman who was the last to spot them, to the wife of the detective leading the case, to a young woman whose sister disappeared around the same time in a less-populated town. Don’t be fooled by the premise—this novel is less a thriller than a thoughtful, sensitive portrait of an isolated part of the world, the burden of loss, and how one event can change the world of those far beyond its immediate point of impact.
Hotel World by Ali Smith
Within the first pages of this postmodern novel, we meet our narrator: the ghost of a teenage chambermaid who died from a freak accident at the Global Hotel, where she still lingers years later. We learn she fell down a dumbwaiter and hit the ground so hard that she recalls tasting her heart in her mouth. Brutal. But, it’s a fitting start to the topsy-turvy ride of this book, delivered in surreal language and breezy, poem-like fragments that both spook and comfort. The novel carefully guides the reader through the five stages of grief, each told from the perspective of a woman tied to the hotel. It’s a doozy, especially for readers who relish in experimental writing (or the afterlife).
If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim
In this debut novel, writer Crystal Hana Kim sets a tragic love triangle during the height of the Korean War. Haemi, a refugee teenager displaced in Busan with her mother and ill brother, is in between her childhood friend/first love Kyunghwan and his well-off older cousin Jisoo. Knowing that marrying into money can help her family and lead to a more stable life (reminder: there’s a war out there), she opts for “the wrong guy,” which of course compounds ramifications for decades to come. This is an intense, winding story (tip: save it for a long trip) that flips the notion on the war that’s often dubbed the Forgotten War.
Intimacy Idiot by Isaac Oliver
Though he’s busy these days writing for HBO’s High Maintenance, author and playwright Isaac Oliver is also a master of the laugh-out-loud funny personal essay. It’s never too late to pick up his 2015 collection, in which he displays his hilarious, and often self-deprecating, observations of life in New York City—the good, the bad, and the stuff so wild you can’t make it up. Tag along as he spends a night with a man with an unexpected fetish, rides the subway with the drunk and horny late-night crowd, and takes a trip down memory lane to the formative VHS collection of his youth.
Lot by Bryan Washington
A young man comes of age in this collection of thirteen gritty stories that will make you rethink what you know about Houston, TX. Real-life people from writer Bryan Washington's working-class upbringing inspired the book’s fictionalized characters, including a Latino father, a black mother, and their three kids, one of whom is an unnamed narrator navigating his sexuality and biracial identity in the Space City’s East End, which is on the brink of gentrification. Through vivid scenery, compassionate language, and devastating situations, Washington tells hometown stories set in an era that's long gone.