Books make the best travel companions; they’re reliable, portable, and won’t get grumpy when things don’t go according to plan (they are inanimate objects!). Pairing a story with your destination is as reliable method as any, but we’re also keen on picking books based on a trip’s mood and mode of travel. The spontaneity of a road trip; the mystical feeling inspired by flying; the old-school charm of riding a train. Check out our transportation-based book recommendations below.
If you’re flying to your destination, transport yourself to faraway fictional lands — or hop into a story about those crazy-mystical air vessels we so often take for granted.
The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida
Vida’s novel about travel and identity might be an artful meditation on Murphy’s Law: pretty much everything that can go wrong, does. As soon as she arrives in her destination — Casablanca, Morocco — the narrator loses all of her possessions. The ensuing plot grows more and more absurd, as she finds herself on the set of a movie, and backstage at a Patti Smith concert, all the while trying to reclaim who she thought she was — not to mention her passport. But the story is also full of funny reflections on the learning curve that comes with adjusting to a new place.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
McClain’s historical novel centers on a woman whose unabashed pursuit of her own desires makes her a trailblazing anomaly for her time. The book is set in the ’20s, but its protagonist, Beryl Markham, is no flapper — rather, she’s an aviator, and her flights have brought her acclaim. Of European descent but raised in Kenya, Beryl struggles with her attempts to apply her navigation skills to the traverses of her own emotional life, getting caught up in a tumultuous love triangle.
Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
Like Vida’s subtle and at times dark story of self-discovery, Lacey’s book begins with an emotionally unfulfilled woman embarking suddenly on a trip, surprising those around her by nearly disappearing. The narrator of Missing is comfortably married, but that comfort is so maligned with how she feels about her life that she has no other choice to escape. Elyria hops on a plane to New Zealand, and explores the country’s most isolated corners, hitchhiking haphazardly along the way.
If you’re hopping on a train, get in the mood with some steampunk literature — or a subway-centric story.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The scary elements of Hawkins’ super-bestselling thriller are in no way related to the functionality of the titular train (luckily for those hoping to read it while in transit). Instead, it’s a suspenseful read about narrator Rachel, who’s been coping with a recent split as best as she can. Drowsy from nights of liquid comfort, she takes the train each morning, wizzing by her ex’s house. When she begins noticing details about it that are out of the ordinary, she questions whether her senses are tricking her.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
For a less literal take on train-appropriate fiction, Pulley’s novel has the same air of vintage-inspired adventure as a steam engine fueled trip. Thaniel Steepleton (who, you may be surprised to know, is NOT a Dickensian comic relief character) is on the hunt for the watchmaker who made a gadget that saved his life. He’s joined by a soothsayer-like accomplice, and the two set off on an adventure any Sherlock Holmes fan would be happy to tag along with.
A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball
The trains in Ball’s surreal new book transport its sleeping residents from town to mysterious town, as part of a peculiar social project called the Process of the Villages. In each new town, a weary citizen relearns how to speak, how to socialize, how to go on dates, how to get jobs and how to partake in other basic tasks. The mood of the setup is eerie — what exactly caused this blank-slate state? As Ball reveals the mystery at the novel’s core, he also reflects on the value of memories — even tragic ones.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
A proud if pretentious Brooklynite, Nathaniel P. can often be found flirting with women at his local coffee shop and hopping on the subway to hang out with various romantic pursuits. It’s a fun read for anyone who enjoys indulging in cynicism, but it may make the jaded reader feel that his or her suspicions about the futile nature of dating are completely justified. That said, it’ll certainly make you laugh.
Road trip reads
If you’re road trippin’ it, we recommend packing one of these fictional cross-country treks. Just don’t read and drive!
Paper Towns by John Green
The movie just came out, but as the (typically true) adage goes: the book was way better. It’s much more than a fun teen story — although it’s that, too. Narrator Quentin “Q” Jacobson has the night of his life with his dream girl but is dismayed to find that she’s disappeared the next day. His search for her isn’t just a boy-chases-girl lesson in perseverance. The more Q learns about Margo — cued in by clues she left behind for him — the more he realizes that she’s a deeply complex and flawed individual belied by a manic pixie persona.
Find Me by Laura van den Berg
Short story master van den Berg’s first novel begins in a claustrophobic setting. After a bizarre memory-loss disease spreads across the world in a flash, those immune are quarantined in a hospital. Narrator Joy is among them — its possible that the traumas she endured as a child are responsible for warding off the strange killer — and she soon learns that the hospital is no safer than the outside world. Joined by a childhood comrade, she hops on a bus in search of her lost mother, playing memory games along the way.
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
A historical work of fiction set on the home front during World War II, Amy Bloom’s novel follows narrator Eva and her sister — both disgruntled runaways — on a trek from Hollywood’s flashy scene to a quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s not quite a rags-to-riches story, but a more nuanced look at what chasing the American dream can really involve. The pair’s cobbled-together family has to lie their way to relative economic comforts, and in doing so form lifelong bonds.
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