Whether it’s hours spent waiting in an airport terminal due to an unexpected (but really, expected) delay or hours under the sun (with sunscreen) on the beach, a good book is a welcome companion. And a page-turner at that is necessary to keep you entertained and pass the time enjoyably.
Thus, here’s a list of fictional works you should consider for packing away while traveling for business or pleasure this summer, both fun and thought-provoking with themes spanning from the contemporary art world to artificial intelligence. Happy reading and safe travels.
(Ed. note: All of these titles are already available to purchase, download, or borrow from your local library unless otherwise noted.)
Still Lives by Maria Hummel
A very satisfying page-turner and a selection last year for Reese Witherspoon‘s Hello Sunshine book club, Maria Hummel’s murder mystery novel shines a light on the behind-the-scenes workings of a (fictional) major art museum in Los Angeles. While the whodunnit keeps the plot moving, Hummel also takes time to illuminate how women are portrayed as stationary objects (still lives, if you will) in both art and the media—notably through the media and public’s fascination with young women as murder victims throughout history. (If you need more evidence, just look at the Serial podcast, any dramatization about the Black Dahlia, or even Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, once again dredging up the murder of Sharon Tate.)
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
With a setting in an “alternative 1980s London,” it already sparks similar feelings to Black Mirror‘s wacky choose-your-own-adventure episode “Bandersnatch.” The eerie feelings don’t stop there and only continue through what is a bizarre if not tragic love triangle involving two humans (one male, one female) and a male-gendered “synthetic human.” (A robot, A.I., whatever you want to call it.) Naturally, there a number of questions of morality that come into play, not just about falling in love with two people or beings, but about falling in love with an artificial being—or the artificial being developing feelings itself.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
The latest work from the highly-successful author of Big Little Lies takes place at a retreat resort that, while set in Australia, could be set at any familiar destination for yoga retreats or juice cleanses, whether it be Ojai or Tulum. As you guessed it, there are a nine guests involved, but you also get the backstory on the resort manager and employees as well, offering Lost-like flashbacks intermixed with the present predicament at the resort, which itself presents some healing methods that read like something you’d read (if not now, at least eventually) in a Goop newsletter. But like all of Moriarty’s novels, what keeps you reading is both her fleshed-out characters and droll writing style that just makes the pages fly by.
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
For many Americans, it might be hard to get yourself in the mindset to want to read a book set in the months leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election. In this case, come for the name of brilliant author “Gary Shteyngart” and stay because his work is always entertaining, if not downright scary in just how real it all feel. More of antagonist than protagonist, the book follows disgraced financier Barry Cohen, who seemingly evokes all sorts of notable figures from the New York finance world and the 2008 collapse. Basically on the run from an SEC investigation (to say what for would be a spoiler), Cohen ends upon a Greyhound trip (paid in cash) across America. He’s the definition of white male privilege, and he’s beyond frustrating at times (if not all times), and every other character in the book (most of whom aren’t much likable themselves) feel the same way. And yet, there are moments when Shteyngart demonstrates Cohen, as human as anyone else, does have a heart. Thankfully, these moments are fleeting because frankly Cohen does not deserve anyone’s pity. The other person who does not deserve pity, but does have much more heart, is his wife, Seema, a self-made professional and a first-generation American on the opposite side of the political aisle from her husband. It is through her that the reader really comes to understand the true price many of these people pay when they come into wealth—especially New York City wealth—while trying to balance that with her upbringing and immigrant family.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, there is no murder (unless I truly overlooked something) in Andrew Sean Greer’s charming novel about a novelist—but there is a mystery until the very last page. If you’re the type who likes to read about traveling while traveling, this is your opportunity to travel from New York to Mexico City to Italy to Morocco to Japan in a single sitting. Following soon-to-be-turning-50 Arthur Less (who ruminates his looming birthday from the first page to the last), you are stuck inside his head and stuck with his regrets and failures, Greer never leaves his protagonist down so long that the reader loses hope for him. You can’t help but think that Less is simultaneously running away, and yet somehow running toward something that none of us can quite see until we get there.
Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland
Available June 18
In a follow-up to her wickedly fun but pointed critique of the fashion world in I’ll Eat When I’m Dead, author Barbara Bourland is back with Fake Like Me.Also set in the contemporary art world (this time in New York), the protagonist is a young artist trying to build a life for herself in a world that doesn’t take her seriously—a sentiment shared by women across every industry. Not everything is as immediately relatable (hopefully) as she suffers a number of major setbacks, namely a fire destroying her home and all of her work. And as if that weren’t enough, she sets out on a path to solve—you guessed it—the death of another young artist. Possible murder plot aside, there are a number of inner art industry workings examined here, including how many poor young artists come to the big city with the big art scene, only to be manipulated and exploited by wealthy patrons, living an exorbitant life of luxury while perpetuating a never-ending cycle of income disparity.
Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry by Richard Kirshenbaum
Available June 25
Appropriately named Rouge, the story follows three women who catalyze the modern beauty and makeup industry in New York amid the roaring 1920s. in NYC despite the oppressive social standards of 1920s America. Among the historical characters that make appearances and push the plot forward are Elizabeth Arden, founder of her eponymous beauty empire, and CeeCee Lopez, the bi-racial founder of the first African American woman’s hair relaxer business and became the first female African American millionaire. (And yes, there’s a murder plot in there as well. This is a page-turner list, after all.) And if you’re guessing this sounds more like the treatment for a big budget movie, you’re right: Wendy Finerman—one of the top female producers in Hollywood, behind The Devil Wears Prada and Forrest Gump—already optioned it.