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My Vacation Mistake

vintage-beach

Speaking of vacations, I made a mistake last summer…

I packed a book that looked fun. It was about friendship! There were pictures of friendship bracelets on the cover! Surely, I thought, there was a feel-good story to be found inside. But, halfway through, the main character’s dog was killed in a horrible accident. I couldn’t shake the image, and I spent my last few precious days riddled with anxiety as to whether my own dog was safe back at home.

I’m not alone with my experience. Joanna read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter — a candidate for The Darkest Story Ever Told — on her honeymoon.

Since a book can dramatically change the tenor of a trip, choosing a great vacation read is as important as choosing which swimsuit to bring. But what does the ideal book look like? I would say: entertaining but not suspenseful, light but not dumb.

With that in mind, here are three books I’m excited to check out this season:

What are your recommendations for smart, fun books? What are your all-time favorite vacation reads? Are there any books you’re excited to check out this summer? We would LOVE to hear…

  1. Paige says...

    Last summer I read about half of All the Light We Cannot see sitting in Central Park on a mostly solo trip to NYC and I think I loved it even more because of it! I completely agree that a book can set the tone of a trip.

  2. Paige Posladek says...

    I just found this post, but guys, I read Gone Girl on my honeymoon. Biggest turn off EVER.

    • Sharon says...

      omg… hilarious. But bad.

  3. Bianca S says...

    I have an awesome summer book recommendation if you are looking for suspense and romance! I just read “The Friend Request” by author Charles Soto and I could not put it down. It is a Facebook love story about two high school sweethearts who reconnect later in life to find that they both now live in two totally different worlds. Chase is a ultra rich business owner dealing with some scandalous family issues and Carly is a struggling single mom desperately trying to care for her disabled son. I absolutely loved the characters and found this to be an entertaining and addictive book! I am sure I will be re-reading it again on the beach!! Hope you check it out
    http://authorcharlessoto.com/

  4. I just finished the most elegantly light-hearted mystery by Muriel Spark called The Comforters. SO, SO GOOD!!! It has all these elements of a *seemingly* dark brooding mystery (black mail, diamond smuggling, Satanic black Masses (!!!), nervous breakdowns) that keep you in suspense (and thinking, just how the hell is she going to put all these things together?!), but her playful sense of humor tempers the hard clarity of her prose, and it turns out to be just a fun ride, totally beach reading appropriate. Plus you get a plucky urbane heroine in the figure of Caroline Rose (great name for a heroine, right?). I write more about it here for those interested:
    http://www.parcelblog.com/2015/06/summer-book-review-muriel-sparks-the-comforters/
    And to the other real-life Caroline, what a great post! Thanks for the suggestions!

  5. Biographies and anything from the Humor & Entertainment section on Amazon are always a nice idea and you won’t end up crying your heart out. When in doubt, read a small review or ask a friend to read it if you hate spoilers.

  6. Eve says...

    I read Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple on my Honeymoon and it was the perfect book for it! Light and funny. Very entertaining!

  7. Elena says...

    I know exactly what you are talking about. Had the same misfortune on my honeymoon. I brought Brothers Karamazov, a very serious Dostoyevsky read, about religion, life, death, meaning of life; and Kate Atkinson something “behind the museum doors”, which to my liking was too simple. I would say take something like: Audrey Niffinegger “The time traveller’s wife”, F. Scott Fitzerald “Tender is the night”, Iris Murdock ” The sea, the sea”. They are on the serious books side, but rather easy to read and with a thrill. I could not put them down.

  8. Lacey says...

    i just read John green’s Paper Towns and it was fantastic. His writing is smart and funny and he writes great coming of age stories although I can’t get myself to try fault in our stars since I worry a story about a 16yr old with cancer is way too sad for a vacation read. Paper towns is not depressing- highly recommended!

  9. Hannah says...

    Omg I did the same! I got the audiobook version of the girls from corona del mar and cried on the whole flight to Hawaii.

  10. I really enjoyed A Hundred Summers & The Secret Life of Violet Grant, both by Beatriz Williams. I also really liked The Rules of Civility (Amor Towles) and The Chaperone (Laura Moriarty). Oh, and Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter) was great! All light reads, but really engaging page-turners.

  11. I can tell you what book NOT to read on your vacation:

    RUBY by Cynthia Bond

    I picked it up at the airport after having finished another book quicker than expected, and read RUBY during the tail-end of my trip in Hawai’i. Although *incredibly* well-written (it had to be, otherwise I never could have finished it), it is BY FAR the most graphic and horrifying story I’ve ever read. I didn’t know anything about the book when I picked it up (again, at the airport, mainly because the options were so limited), but the BACK of the book suggested that it was a love story. YAY! Love stories are great, and I can handle a little bit of “tormented past” character backstory. Little did I know…

    I still can’t shake the images in that book, even weeks later.

  12. melastab says...

    Leaving on vacation soon and I’m planning on bringing Open Heart by A.B. Yehoshua, Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner (one of my favorite movies!) and The heart Broke in by James Meek.

    It will be a long vacation!

  13. I would definitely say any autobio by any comedian. Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, anything like that just make the vacation BETTER!

  14. Kali says...

    I’ve leafed through the comments and didn’t see it yet so I must add Chocolat. Yes, it’s old and yes, it was adapted into a movie, but it is hand’s down the best vacation book I’ve ever read.

  15. Hattie says...

    Yes! Last summer, my first read was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s amazing.

    I just graduated and am SO excited to finally have reading time that is not mandated! (Total killjoy, no?) First up on my reading list this summer is Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin.

    • YES! Just finished AMERICANAH at the start of a recent vacation, and it was such an incredible book. Perfect reading option for people who are interested in fiction that is beautifully written, highly intelligent, socially relevant, but also funny, with bursts of lightheartedness.

      Can’t recommend that book enough!

    • Kait says...

      SUCH an excellent book! I loved loved loved it.

  16. Lisa says...

    Yes – Sweet Valley Confidential – the Sweet Valley twins ten year reunion. It is an AWESOME read for a holiday

    No (a million times no) – A Fine Balance by Vikram Seth. One of the most depressing books ever, and I’m still traumatised by it, three years later.

    • OMG, this is hilarious! I haven’t thought about Sweet Valley in forever, and now they have a reunion?! Ah, fond high school memories of Jessica and Elizabeth, their matching lavaliers, and their mother’s Fiat – good times. Thanks for the heads-up and trip down memory lane, Lisa. :)

  17. ilona says...

    The Sex Lives of Cannibals is one of the funniest books ever and would be great for vacation. So would Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore; Social Crimes; and All About Lulu. I also have to chime in for Where’d You Go Bernadette and anything by Ruth Reichl.

    • Robyn says...

      I second The Sex Lives of Cannibals – hysterical and perfect for a vacay.

  18. Emily says...

    I love reading light biographies and memoirs – some of the best ones, though, are Bossypants by Tina Fey, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling and Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

  19. Alyssa says...

    I have to recommend the “Call the Midwife” series! A few of the anecdotes are sad, but really they’re mostly heartwarming. I read Sharp Objects on the flight home from Cancun, and let’s just say I am glad it was the flight home rather than the flight there!

  20. Brooke says...

    Anything by David Sedaris, Stephen Colbert or Tina Fey! I read Blood, Bones and Butter during one vacation- it was perfect. Also, Pat Conroy’s books are great for vacation- they can be dark at times but his books are SO satisfying and don’t dampen your mood at all. I always find Jane Austen’s books to be fun to re-read, too!

  21. I read Lucky by Alice Sebold (author of Lovely Bones) when I was on vacation. Its a memoir about rape. A great book, however it was very sobering and sad. It really changed my mood from vacation and beach mode . I am glad I am not the only one who experiences this. Thanks for these great recommendation!

  22. Kate says...

    Ooh, I’m not sure if I would read “Find Me” if you’re looking for a pick-me-up! I found it to be pretty depressing. I’ve really enjoyed the Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) books–The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. Granted, they are murder mysteries, so they’re a bit dark in that sense, but they’re compelling and not too demanding without being dumb!

    • Arliss says...

      I the those books. I am anxiously awaiting #3!

  23. shopgirl says...

    Last summer I packed Elizabeth Gilbert s The Signature of All Things. Funny, crazy adventures and great summer reading!

    • Kali says...

      To warn you, the book’s main character is a botanist who studies moss so while it’s entertaining and a page-turner at times, it’s also a bit too long and dry at others. All this to say, read, but maybe not on vacation?

    • I agree with Kali. I was reading Reviews for this book on Amazon (never again) and it seemed like a good fit for me. I listened to this book on tape and there were significant lags in the plot despite the lush descriptions and historical narrative. There was also quite a bit of sexual self discovery that I found to be unnecessary and indulgent throughout the book. I’m no prude but it just didn’t work for me.

      Thanks for this post! Great discussion.

  24. Kate says...

    I read ‘Where’d you go Bernadette?’ while I was in NY, loved it, so funny and made me laugh, it kept my in a great mood the whole trip.

  25. swhit says...

    ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Phillips. Story all about adventures in India. I know over 6 people (men + women) who have loved this the way I did. Perfect for a trip.

  26. Tracey says...

    Best most fitting tropical vacation read — Don’t Stop the Carnival! It’s an older book, and sends you back to the Caribbean when it was truly remote. It’s funny, it’s entertaining & it’ll convince you to head home & not try to make a go of living in the tropics!

  27. Kaycee says...

    I read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler on my vacation in Tanzania….absolutely loved it (the book and the country)!

    • I LOVED that book. I read it just after I read The Paris Wife, but much preferred Z.

  28. Cait says...

    I read Gone Girl on my honeymoon…

    I may be a little insane but after having gotten married I now pay really close attention to all the married couples in movies and books. What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Does my marriage look more like the good ones or the bad ones?

    Starting that journey out with Gone Girl may have been a bad choice. [It was still a great read, though!]

  29. Katie says...

    I used to travel internationally for work a lot (seven trips to China in one year! Added years to my face & lower back, but I digress…) and these are my favorite, favorite books to read on the road and/or beach:
    5. Local paper and/or rag mag from wherever you are (Grazia in the UK, yes please! Crazy censored Shanghai Daily? OK!). It’s fun to see what’s happening, what little (or big) news is going from the perspective of the place you’re in. You may have to really hunt for this, but it’s a great way to know more about a place and make local friends and/or conversation with local folks.
    4. The Art of Fielding
    Great for a long weekend getaway in the early fall; plus: baseball. You’ll miss the characters when you’re done
    3. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Topper
    Read in a day on the beach in Croatia. Laughed out loud. Dark AND funny!
    2. And Then We Came to The End by Joshua Ferris
    It’s like: work sucks and everyone knows it so hang in there, little tomato!
    1. Skinny Dip by Carl Haissen
    best thing I ever bought at the airport. Light AND intelligent. Predictable? Sure. A day read. Nice on a boat, too.

    • Courtney says...

      3 & 4 are two of my all time favorites! I need to check out 2.

    • lauren says...

      They made This Is Where I Leave You into a movie- with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd amongst other stars. Highly enjoyable- funny enough I watched it on a cross-continental flight myself. Didn’t know it was a book!
      Also agree with Hiassen books- really easy reads that I always find magically in my bag or in a used bookstore right before a beach trip!

  30. Michelle says...

    Anything by JoJo Moyes! I read “Me Before You” on my honeymoon and fell in love with it. I’ve been voraciously reading everything else she’s written since!

    • Becky Fuller says...

      I’m reading “One plus One” by Jo Jo Moyes now and am enjoying it so much!

  31. emily says...

    I just got back from my first real vacation with my boyfriend… where I read Gone Girl in almost a single sitting between the plane and subsequent train rides. Not exactly the thing to instill confidence in the relationship at hand.

  32. I just finished reading DEAR GIRLS ABOVE ME. It’s a super witty, quick read, and can easily be read on the subway or on a beach.

    Happy Reading! (ps-love the new site design)

  33. Elaine says...

    I have just returned from a holiday in Norway where I spent 7 blissful hours on a cross country train from Oslo to Bergen and became completely besotted with ‘The Thornbirds’ by Colleen McCullough. I missed the TV series back in the 70’s and can’t believe at the age of 40 I have let this book pass me by. What an amazing family saga – a MUST read!

  34. Oh, and if I may post another suggestion The Masie Dobbs Series if fantastic.

    The first book in the series could almost be considered a YA. Starts when she is a youngster before the First World War in England and the latest takes place in 1937.

  35. One of my all time favorite books ever is Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos. Wonderful characters of all ages and the story is a beautiful circle!

    Elizabeth Berg, just about any of her novels, love them!

    Another, in my opinion fantastic read : The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

    Love this post, I adore reading and love getting first hand suggestions. Bravo on your new design. Very elegant and user friendly.

  36. ‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty was an entertaining read. I’m just about to read ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ by M.R. Carey for our girls’ trip. Heard folks couldn’t put it down!

    Cheers!
    Kensley at Hot Mess Mamas

  37. plch says...

    During my last pregnancy I read two books where women miscarried several times and two books where babies died of SID… I still managed to keep my good mood!
    >>> on holidays I like to read thrillers and detective books, maybe not mood lifters but they are usually good fun.

  38. I did this same thing! I read The Snow Child (http://amzn.com/0316175668) on a family vacation…it’s a beautiful book and I highly recommend it, but it’s ultimately a deeply moving and sad story with, for me, some too-close-to-home subject matter. I was supposed to be frolicking around Italy with my family and instead I was getting emotional about little things and crying in bed at night! :P

  39. Tess says...

    Such a weird coincidence: I read “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” on my honeymoon as well since it was one of the few books in the vacation rental we were staying at in Sardinia! However, I don’t remember it messing up the rest of the time we spent there, so it must not have affected me so strongly,

  40. Lauren says...

    I read We Need to Talk About Kevin while pregnant, not a good idea! Actually it’s a great read but a very dark and morbid book, and it’s a perspective to motherhood that had never occurred to me.
    I love Tully by Paullina Simons and The Engagements by Courtney P. Sullivan. I would also highly recommend an Australian classic, The Thornbirds, such an amazing love story!

    • Yvonne says...

      We Need to Talk About Kevin was so very dark!

  41. Theadora says...

    I just listened to the audiobook version of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Jon Ronson is hilarious and it starts out really great though drags in places.

    As for vacation reads, I’m bringing food memoirs! I don’t think you can go wrong really. Delancey, Bon Appetempt, and Life from Scratch!

  42. Lisa says...

    Soon after I had my son I read an article about a sleep deprived mom who accidentally forgot to take her son to daycare- left him in her car instead on a hot day and didn’t realize her mistake until arriving at the daycare to pick him up. That was six years ago. I think I’m scarred for life.
    I just read the boys in the boat while breastfeeding my second and loved it. Surprising because I’m not particularly into sports or history.

  43. Shirley says...

    I read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides when I was pregnant with my 3rd child. Worst choice possible. Freaked out and hormonal, I actually threw the book away.

  44. Rebeccah says...

    These books don’t qualify as chick-lit, but they’re both great for different reasons: Boys in the Boat – inspiring, heartwarming, and actually felt a little bit educational as it is a true story. And guiltily, the Hunger Games. I read all three in the series on my honeymoon, one each day. They sucked me right in and I couldn’t put them down. (And then my husband wanted to know what all the fuss was about and he started reading them!)

  45. Suzanne says...

    I love this post. But I can’t believe no one has mentioned One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. Best. Book. Ever. It takes a rare book indeed to top my all time favorite read — Prayer For Owen Meaney by John Irving– but this one did.

    • Carmen B. says...

      OMG, Suzanne. I read One Thousand White Women a few years ago, and absolutely loved it!!! It’s a beautifully told story.

  46. I love reading memoirs and I’ve found that they are perfect for vacation reading, especially if you can find a funny one like Tina Fey’s or Amy Poehler’s. I also loved The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. Its hilariously and smartly written. I also would highly recommend anything by Neil Gaimen. When I read his books it transports me back to being a kid reading outside all day in the summer.

    • Emily says...

      ^^^^^ YES to The Life and Times….or ANYTHING by Bill Bryson. My favorite is In a Sunburned Country. I love Bill Bryson. Smart, interesting and LOL funny.

  47. Alison says...

    OH and another young adult/good for adult choice is WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart. Super surprising ending that I did NOT see coming.

    • Elizabeth R says...

      I totally realized the ending from the beginning. Not the WHY neccesarily but the what. I was sad.

    • Elizabeth R says...

      I bring at least a book for every single day of the vacation. Anything by Marissa de los Santos, The Opposite of Lovw by Julie Buxbaum, ‘Us’ by David Nichols, Tell The Wolves I’m Home, Girls in White Dresses or anything by that author, anything by Laura Dave. This summer I am particularly looking forward to How To Start a Fire, Eight Hundred Grapes, The Rocks, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Maybe In Another Life.

  48. I read George Orwell’s 1984 while on a cruise.. not a good idea at all!

  49. Meadow says...

    Yay the site is displaying for me at work now!! I stick to reading fashion/beauty magazines on holiday. Granted, I am not a big book reader to begin with, but I never understood how people could read serious/depressing books on holiday. I always go to a local second-hand bookstore to get my husband silly paperbacks to read by the pool. I pick the wackiest titles and have been known to get him Star Trek and Murder She Wrote novels :)

  50. Katherine says...

    The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellanga. The tale of a book restorer who goes to Florence after their devastating flood in 1966. Finding love, and a treasured book of erotic poems and drawings. I could NOT put this book down.