Summer is often a time for visiting faraway friends and family. If you are one of the brave souls embarking on the Kafkaesque waiting game that is modern air travel, add snagging a good book to your travel to-do list. Books are, in the words of Stephen King, a “uniquely portable magic,” offering a lovely mental escape from uncomfortable seats, bland airport food, that layover that never ends, and the relentless blaring of departure and arrival announcements. Oh, and a paperback book never needs to be recharged. So if you’re one of the fearless who will be traveling by air this summer, here are five great distractions to grab before you go:
Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
Poehler’s career has been on fire since her debut on Saturday Night Live in 2001, and she has enjoyed massive success on both the big and small screens. And with Yes Please, Poehler follows in the tradition of fellow funny women Tina Fey and Lena Dunham by givig us a touching and hilarious semi-memoir. Poehler is not the most deft of writers, something she freely admits in her preface, but she is a wildly entertaining one, and she makes the very smart choice of interspersing her own writings with that of her mother, father, and even former SNL castmate Seth Meyers. Ultimately it’s Poehler’s brutal honesty about many aspects of her life, from childbirth to that time she rubbed up on Justin Timberlake, that makes reading Yes Please a perfect distraction from your three-hour flight delay.
Revival, by Stephen King
After plunging into the world of crime thrillers with Mr. Mercedes, King made a triumphant return to the horror genre in Revival. His 55th (55th!) novel tells the story of two men whose lives are inextricably intertwined. Jamie Morton is only a child when he first meets the Reverend Charles Jacob. Charming and engaging, the Reverend quickly settles into Jamie’s small East Coast hometown, which welcomes him with open arms. But events take a dark turn, culminating with Charles turning his back on both the town and his faith. Years later the two men meet again. Jamie is now an adult with a bleak future, and the reverend is a bitter and broken man with a terrifying obsession. King draws strongly from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as Revival explores both the horrifying consequences of man’s attempt to play God and a dark, unbreakable connection between two people whose lives are destined to be intertwined.
Gray Mountain, by John Grisham
Samantha Kofer is young, smart, and ambitious. Armed with a law degree, a cushy job at New York’s largest law firm, and a shot at partner in her sights, Samantha practically has a sign over her head that flashes “Going Places.” Only she’s not; at least not in the way she expects. When the 2008 financial meltdown hits, Samantha’s job is one of the first casualties. Before long, a desperate Samantha finds herself in Brady, Virginia, home to the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic and a community ravaged by the greed of coal mining companies. And there are some evil doings going on, involving a coal company that will stop at nothing (and I mean nothing) to protect its own interests. Gray Mountain already stands on the strength of its storytelling as a really good legal thriller, but what makes it one of Grisham’s most impressive novels is the searing light it shines on some of the worst practices of corrupt coal mining operations.
An Innocent Abroad: Life Changing Trips From 35 Great Writers, by Don George
An Innocent Abroad: Life Changing Trips From 35 Great Writers is everything a travel anthology should be, ranging from funny to touching to heartbreaking while always remaining engrossing. The anthology features a diverse and wide ranging number of contributors, from writers Dave Eggers and Ann Patchett to seasoned travel chroniclers like Jan Morris. The collected vignettes offer readers the best of both worlds: a glimpse into all corners of the earth, and great stories. To achieve this balance, Lonely Planet asked contributors to write about a time they discovered or experienced something new while traveling—and the result is an amazing collection of nonfiction. While I enjoyed all of the personal narratives, my favorite was British writer Marina Lewycka’s Mauve. Let’s just say I never want to go to Russian summer camp.
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
I know, I know, Gabaldon’s Outlander series is already a worldwide bestseller and has been adapted into a wildly popular TV series, but don’t be wary of the hype: Outlander is popular because it’s really good…and weird. Weird in an interesting way, as it crosses both multiple time streams and genres. The series begins in 1945, with former combat nurse Claire Randall and her husband, Frank, taking a much deserved second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland. All is going swimmingly until Claire decides to collect plant specimens near the mythical stones of Craigh na Dun. In the midst of her gathering, Claire hears a buzzing sound and faints…then wakes up having time traveled to 1743. If that doesn’t trigger the “I may have to stay up for the next 24 hours and finish this book” part of your brain, I don’t know what will. It’s not just the unexpected plot twists that make Outlander’s historical romance/science-fiction/adventure premise so good; Gabaldon is also a terrific writer, and she gives readers a heady mix of time travel, battles, romance, heartbreak, intrigue, and drama.