- 17 Destination-Centric Books For Great Vacation Reading
- The Best Novels To Read on Vacation
- The Best Memoirs To Read on Vacation
- The Best Non-Fiction Books To Read On Vacation
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Good books have both inspired and informed a lot of my travels. I especially love reading books that are set in the places where I happen to be on vacation. Sometimes a good novel or a well-written memoir can provide the flavor and history of a place better than the best guidebook.
As much as I loved traveling with a small child, they consume a lot of attention. I was very excited when Teen Traveler reached an age where I could indulge in a good summer read on vacation again.
Here are 17 books to read where the setting is as important as any of the characters. Some are novels; others are memoirs and travelogs. They make for truly engaging vacation reading.
I avoided weighty tomes and dark themes in favor of appealing lighthearted romps; these are vacation reads after all. I hope they inspire and inform your next vacation. Or maybe even carry you off to someplace wonderful when you can’t get away.
17 Destination-Centric Books For Great Vacation Reading
The Best Novels To Read on Vacation
Reliably Fun Beach Reads
Destination: Atlantic-Coast beaches
I think they both read some of the best summer vacation books out there. And I frequently grab a book by one of them when we go on a beach getaway.
Their stories tend to be juicy enough to keep you turning the pages. But they’re never dark or dramatic enough to make your spill your umbrella drink.
Books: The Scotland Street series
Destination: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
After 16 books in the series that started with 44 Scotland Street, I feel like Edinburgh’s New Town is my own neighborhood and the characters are my friends.
So when I visited Edinburgh I was thrilled to find Scotland Street, Drummond Place Gardens, The Cumberland Bar and other quintessential Edinburgh spots exactly as McCall Smith describes them.
The books can almost be a walking tour of today’s New Town and Stockbridge neighborhoods. Start the series before you go and continue while you’re there.
The Latest in the series, the Enigma of Garlic, hit bookstores this spring.
Books: The Mary Russell mysteries
Destination: All over the world
In this 17-book series Sherlock Holmes’ exceedingly capable fictional wife Mary Russell has adventures across the globe, often with Sherlock at her side.
The latest, Castle Shade, takes us to Roumania and Transylvania, where Mary and Sherlock help Queen Maria track down the shadows, real or imagined, that seem to be haunting her country.
Other books in the series that I’ve really enjoyed take the reader to Israel, Morocco, Imperial Japan and the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
The Lantern Dance, due out this winter, will take us to the French countryside.
Books: Bruno Chief of Police series
Destination: Dordogne, France
Rich passed the first book in the Bruno Series to me. I loved it and passed it along to several friends and family, who also loved it. That’s the sort of easy appeal these books have.
Bruno Courrèges is the police chief in a small French market town, which turns out to be anything by sleepy, much to his chagrin.
Bruno spends as much time sharing wine and homemade paté with friends and cooking elaborate Truffle-infused dinners as he does solving crimes in these fun police procedurals.
The ideal place to read them is on a stone patio in the South of France with your own glass of local wine in hand, but don’t wait for your next trip to read them.
Books: The Phryne Fisher Mysteries
Destination: Melbourne, Australia
Every place was more fun in the roaring 20s and the Honouroable Phryne Fisher has a heck of a lof of fun solving mysteries while drinking cocktails, seducing men and looking fabulous.
Start with Cocaine Blues and then move on to any of the books in the series.
Parts of Australia had a lot in common with the American West in the early 20th century and for me these books capture the danger and possibilities of these wilder days quite well.
The latest book, Murder in Williamstown, is due out this fall.
Book: Crazy Rich Asians
Touch down in modern day multi-cultural Singapore. And immediately go get something to eat.
The Crazy Rich Asians trilogy is a series of fun rom-coms that look at the dynamic, sexy side of Singapore that tourists don’t always see.
In the first one, disparate Asian cultures intermingle in the smells and tastes of Hawker food stalls, but not necessarily in families. And the newest couture is as important as the old traditions.
The first book made me rethink the Singapore I experienced and made me want to go back.
Book: State of Wonder
I read a lot of Ann Patchett. This book, lost most of others, has just enough well-written drama to pull us along, without being heavy reads.
State of Wonder takes us on a Heart-of-Darkness-like journey up the Amazon River. This time, a doctor is on the hunt for her missing mentor who was researching a promising new drug.
Read it during your own wonderful explorations of Brazil and its neighboring countries.
Location: New York City
Forever begins in Ireland in the 1700s but most of it is set in New York City as it grows from a colonial port town to a modern Metropolis.
Our guide on this journey is Cormac O’Connor, who is granted eternal life as long as he stays on the island of Manhattan.
I think this is journalist Pete Hamill’s love letter to his hometown. i loved watching the city grow and evolve through Cormac’s eyes.
It’s a truly enjoyable journey and will help you fully appreciate the life of the city on your first visit or your tenth.
Book: Like Water for Chocolate
The biggest revelation on my first trip to Mexico City was the food. Mexican food is regional, diverse and complex. The tacos and quesadillas that we all eat barely begin to capture it.
Like Water For Chocolate, set on a Mexican hacienda in the early 1900s, is a novel full of love, heartache, family, food and magical realism.
In addition to the wonderful story, it captures all the flavor and complexity Mexican food for me. And it gives us a glimpse into Mexican history and rural Mexican life that tourists don’t see.
Read it in Cancun, Taxco, Mexico City, or anywhere in Mexico. Savor the recipes along with the characters and their story.
Book: Beach Music
Location: Coastal South Carolina
Pat Conroy’s books are often epic and always packed with raw emotions and great storytelling.
In Beach Music, a man flees to rome to try to cope with the suicide of this wife. But he is called back to South Carolina by further family tragedy, which he eventually comes to terms with, beautifully.
Book: Memoirs of a Geisha
Destination: Kyoto, Japan
The story’s protagonist is sold into Geisha-hood as a child, and goes through myriad trials and hardships. She eventurally learns how to take control her life and her destiny and finds happiness.
Golden’s ability to get into the mind of a early 20th-century Japanese woman was mind-boggling to me when I read it.
I think it’s safe to call this book a classic by now.
It’s not quite historical fiction but it provides good historical insight into this often misunderstood aspect of Japanese culture.
The Best Memoirs To Read on Vacation
Book: A Moveable Feast
I loved A Moveable Feast the first time I read it because it allows us to visit the Paris everyone wants to visit: the City of Lights in the 1920s when it’s cafés were filled with cultural luminaries.
Hemingway takes us to his favorite cafés and bistros where he drinks coffee and wine and debates with his fellow writer Ford Maddox Ford. We also visit his home, his writing garret and the sitting rooms of the friends like Gertrude Stein.
Some places in the book still exist, like the elegant Café Lipp. I will absolutely read it again the next time (maybe every time) I return to Paris
The Corfu Trilogy
Location: Corfu, off of Greece
Reading all three Corfu books took me from my couch and plunked me down on the white sand beaches and green and brown olive groves of this Mediterranean island in the late 1930s.
This trio of humorous memoirs recounts 10YO Gerald Durrell’s adventures when his eccentric family relocates from grey England to beautiful Greece after their father’s death.
The First book is My Family & Other Animals, an irresistable title. Take it with you to Corfu, or any other Mediterranean island, really.
The Best Non-Fiction Books To Read On Vacation
Book: The City of Falling Angels
Destination: Venice, Italy
Even after spending time in Venice I didn’t feel like I had any real sense of it. I love the way John Berendt’s The City if Falling Angels unveiled this popular and intriguing but engimatic city for me.
The mystery at the heart of City is a fire at a famous opera house. But along the way he takes us to some of the finest private palazzos and introduces us to some of the more entertaining denizens of this famous canaled city.
Read it with a negroni in hand in St. Mark’s Square and let the city open up around you.
Book: Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil
Destination: Savannah, GA
Savannah is a pretty city known for its gentile, Southern facade, pretty squares and impressive homes. Like Venice, the real city can seem out of reach to the casual tourist.
Midnight breaks down the genteel facade and brings us behind the doors of the stately homes, where citizens are varied and eccenttic and real-life murders can happen.
Book: A Walk in the Woods
Destination: The Appalachian Trail
If you’re hiking any part of the Appalachian Traill this summer, or hiking anywhere, really, bring Bill Bryson with you.
With A Walk In The Woods we virtually hike alongside the middle-aged, out-of-shape author and his more-out-of-shape companion Katz.
Bryson, one of my favorite non-fiction writers, does a good job of weaving the trail’s facts and history with the highs and very funny lows of his attempt to backpack the length of this iconic path.
Book: In a Sunburnt Country
Early on in the travelogue In a Sunburnt Country, Bryson, a lover of facts, statistics, and trivia, enumerates some of the many things in Australia that can kill you.
Nevertheless, take him along on your own journey around The Land Down Under and you won’t be sorry.
You’ll appreciate his humor-infused experiences and you’ll learn a lot about a country that feels familiar but that Americans actually know very little about.