1. The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan
I’ve got favorite seasons for different genres — spring is Fantasy, fall is Horror, winter is Sci-Fi, and summer is Crime. And Brian K. Vaughan’s webcomic is the perfect summertime crime thriller for these times. A quick breakdown: It’s 2076. Awards in journalism are now called “Greenwalds,” and police are journalists; journalists, police. Private investigators are “paparazzo.” At some point, in the last few decades, the “cloud” has burst, revealing everyone’s private internet history to the world. The internet as we’ve known it is no more, and virtually everyone disguises themselves as they walk through the world. It’s in this setting that the hero, a Private Eye, begins to investigate a murder. I won’t say more, but it should suffice to say that this book is both intelligent and pretty damn cool. Also, it’s available online. –Matt Hershberger
2. You Are Not Like Other Mothers by Angelika Schrobsdorff
This 500-page miracle will take you through the first half of the 20th century in Europe, following the restless path of Else Kirschner, the author’s mother. We see her as the rebel daughter of a traditional Jewish family in Berlin; follow her through World War I as she starts her intellectual and sexual awakening; we’ll dance the Roaring Twenties away as she lives her commitment of having a child with each man she loves; we’ll despair with her as that world of arts, jazz, and love is destroyed by the Nazis in the thirties; we’ll follow her to Bulgaria in exile; we’ll see her glamorous life come apart. Angelika Schrobsdorff writes beautifully about her tumultuous mother, free from cheap morals and judgment. Else Kirschner was not like other mothers and this is not like other books about the era — both the main character, whose testimony we sometimes get in the first person through her diaries, and the narrator are women. You’ll read as fast as Else lived and have a hard time putting down the book. Good thing you’re on vacation! –Ana Bulnes
3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret History is not a new book (It was first published in 1992), but it’s getting a new surge of interest since Donna Tartt’s third and latest novel, The Goldfinch, was published in 2013. The Secret History is a book you want to read while on vacation because it will suck you right in and hold your fascination. It tells the dark and creepy story of a tightly-knit group of smart American students with an unusual lifestyle who become murderers. The Secret History is proof that visual images are superfluous when you want to get a good fright — it will make the hair on your neck stand up and you can say goodbye to your nails. –Morgane Croissant
4. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
As far as I’m concerned, everything Kurt Vonnegut has written is worth reading, but you’ve probably only read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school English, along with maybe the short story “Harrison Bergeron.” Both are great, but there’s so much more to him. My favorite is Breakfast of Champions, in which he writes the story of a perfect butthole. Vonnegut was not so confident in the book’s merit, and at a crafty point in the novel, he writes himself in as a deus ex machina:
This is a very bad book you’re writing,” I said to myself behind my leaks.
“I know,” I said.
“You’re afraid you’ll kill yourself the way your mother did,” I said.
“I know,” I said.
Few writers could make it work. Vonnegut does. –Matt Hershberger
5. The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
Whenever something threats to spoil Mary and Colin’s vacation — the weather’s too warm, they cannot find a decent restaurant, etc. — they remind each other that they’re ‘on holiday.’ Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers is a great little book to take with you on your vacation, and Mary and Colin’s philosophy a great one to adopt whenever you travel for pleasure. Their trip takes a sinister turn when they meet a weird but apparently friendly couple. What are the odds of meeting a sadomasochistic couple with a weird interest in you? Just in case, display this book prominently to warn potential weirdly friendly couples that you’re in the know and won’t be easily fooled. And carry something else to read: The Comfort of Strangers won’t take you more than two hours. –Ana Bulnes
6. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Middlesex (published in 2002) remains one of the best books I have ever read. And just like The Secret History, be on vacation when you read it because otherwise, you’ll cheat your employer out of your work.
Middlesex starts when the Stephanides are forced out of Turkey and move to the US, and it finishes as a coming-of-age story when one of the granddaughters of the first immigrants uncover an incredible family secret.
This is by far my favorite novel by Jeffrey Eugenides — for me, The Virgin Suicides and The Marriage Plot do not hold a candle to Middlesex. –Morgane Croissant
7. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
I will admit to some bias — my first conversation with my wife was about Bruce Springsteen, and I, a corn-fed Midwestern boy, have now moved to the Jersey Shore. Fourth of July weekend is the best time to live on the Shore — we grill out all day and sip beers, occasionally float in the ocean or the pool, and blast The Boss. Springsteen was born down the road from where my wife and I live (first kick he took was when he hit the ground), and he got his start in the same dingy bars that we day-drink in during the summer. He left Jersey for a while, but he’s back now, as a sort of local rock-and-roll preacher. If you’re into his music, you’ve got to read his heart-stopping, full exposure, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking biography, and listen to the album he released with it — it includes an early outtake from before the Boss was the Boss, and was trying to sound like the Allman Brothers. It’s still pretty great.
If you’re not into his music, sweet Jesus, call a doctor, and DON’T GO TOWARDS THE LIGHT. –Matt Hershberger
8. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Summer vacations are perfect for immersing yourself in long books and forgetting about the real world for a few days (or weeks!). Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is not an easy read and will require all your attention. It’s not an easy topic, either. If you just want to be entertained and have fun, go back to Ian McEwan; if you’re in for something difficult, demanding, serious, and depressing (but highly enjoyable), give this Latin American contemporary classic a chance. The book is set in Santa Theresa, Mexico, with a case of literary critics; a mysterious — and absent — poet, a lost journalist, and hundreds of horrific murders of women. (Santa Teresa is a fictionalized version of Ciudad Juárez). More than 1,000 pages later, you’ll close the book feeling exhausted and satisfied. –Ana Bulnes
9. Not the End of the World, by Kate Atkinson
I have read all of Kate Atkinson’s books several times over, but Not the End of the World is one I had purposefully missed. It is a collection of short stories that I had apparently not connected with when I was 20, but which got all my attention this time around.
Kate Atkinson has a gift to create stories about everyday life that make you cringe — and catch your attention. Not the End of the Word tells the stories of people (who are all related in some ways) whose lives are changing dramatically and whose “worlds” are ending. It shows how we unconsciously trap ourselves in lives of comforts, which are bound to change and unsettle us. It will open your eyes and break your heart.
If you don’t want to dive into a big book, you can read one of these stories a day and reflect on it before you move on to the next one. –Morgane Croissant
10. The Jaguar’s Children, John Vaillant
Vaillant has written a book for Now, for a time when America wrestles with closing its borders to the world’s immigrants. It is unlikely, but not impossible that you have never been smuggled across the Mexican border in a sealed water tanker — and been left stranded in the American desert. You have not sat next to a dying friend, his cell phone clutched in your hand, praying that the one bar would magically transform to two. You have not listened to your travel companions quietly and not-so-quietly die around you — from dehydration, from starvation and from loss of hope.
Hector has. Hector, whose surname the reader will never know, is the narrator of John Vaillant’s brutal and loving novel, The Jaguar’s Children. Hector begins recording his story on a file in a smart phone. The phone is not his. It belongs to his friend Cesar, who lies close to death at his side. Hector tries to text the one name on the phone: annimac, but the phone has only one bar. Later, there will be two bars and Hector will reach his mother in Oaxaca. She will not be able to hear him, and he will understand that he is stranded. He will understand the immutably fragile nature of hope.
As will you. –Mary Sojourner (excerpted from her KNAU, NPR – affiliate review)