Best Summer Reads


The best advice about vacation reading comes from Peter Mayle in his book “Encore Provence”: After lunch, select a weighty and serious tome, such as Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” bring it to a hammock, have a restorative nap, and place your bookmark at page 135 (for appearances).

For those who do actually intend to read something this summer, there is fortunately no shortage of engaging recent releases. These 11 selections represent a range of genres, set in a variety of locations around the world. Wherever you’re traveling this summer, one of these books is sure to capture your imagination, or at least provide erudite cover for a snooze.

City Gate, Open Up

By Bei Dao

The name Bei Dao means “Northern Island”; the author of this memoir, born in China in 1949, didn’t dare to write his poetry and edit a Western-style literary magazine under his own name. Over the course of these 18 lyrical essays, he brings to life various memorable figures from his youth, as well as a Beijing now largely lost in the rush to modernity.

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Dragon Teeth

By Michael Crichton

This posthumously published work, originally written in the 1970s, takes us out to the American West of the late 19th century. There, a Yale student becomes embroiled in the Bone Wars, the real-life competition between paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope to find new prehistoric species. In addition to the Brontosaurus teeth referred to by the title, the novel introduces us to a host of historic characters including Wyatt Earp, Robert Louis Stevenson and Brigham Young. Perhaps not one of Crichton’s best — he chose not to publish it, after all — but a page-turner nevertheless.

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Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History’s Greatest Buildings

By James Crawford

With some 640 pages, this hefty volume is perhaps best downloaded to your e-reader rather than packed in your luggage. In lively prose, the book tells the story of 20 lost buildings, from the Tower of Babel to the Twin Towers, weaving fascinating anecdotes about each structure into its history. For the international traveler interested in architecture, “Fallen Glory” is an ideal choice.

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John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London

Edited by Julius Bryant and Susan Weber

Rudyard Kipling’s unfamous father gets his due in this new book highlighting his important preservation work in India as well as his own artistic talent. During his time as the head of art schools in Bombay and Lahore, Lockwood traveled northern India to document and conserve craft traditions. The book serves as a catalog to accompany the exhibition opening at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York on September 15 (London’s Victoria and Albert Museum previously hosted it).

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Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey

By Madeleine Bunting

Londoner Madeleine Bunting travels to seven of the major Hebridean Islands off the coast of Scotland, a region which even today has a rather exotic air to many English. Although Bunting is clearly taken by the islands’ natural beauty and Gaelic culture, she does not romanticize their sometimes dark histories, notably when centuries-old communities were scattered during the Highland Clearances of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Anyone cruising with the Hebridean Princess should not fail to bring this book.

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The Maids

By Junichiro Tanizaki

Although this novel came out in 1963, it only recently received a translation into English. Set in prewar Japan, it centers on the household of a wealthy old novelist, and most notably the numerous maids employed there. Their lives are the focus of this elegiac work, which, by the time it concludes in the 1960s, sees the passing of the era in which maids stayed their entire working lives with the same family. Tanizaki renders the maids with unusual richness, and the novel is a compelling classic of Japanese literature.

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Moving the Palace

By Charif Majdalani

The first English translation of this 2007 novel has a touch of magical realism to it, focusing on the adventures of a Lebanese translator in Sudan. The romance of early 20th-century Arabian culture suffuses the book, in which the protagonist falls in with an antiquities dealer seeking to sell an entire dismantled Alexandrian palace, packed into a caravan traversing the desert.

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The Satanic Mechanic

By Sally Andrew

This second mystery novel by Andrew powerfully evokes the majestic landscape of South Africa’s Klein Karoo. A bushman activist is murdered, among others, and Tannie Maria, a middle-aged recipe writer and advice columnist, tries to discover the perpetrators, against the advice of friends who urge her not to get involved, for her own safety.

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Food Fights & Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste

By Tom Nealon

A collection of fascinating food history tidbits, this book takes readers around the world as it describes the development of foodstuffs like Worcestershire sauce, barbecue and monosodium glutamate. Written with good humor and including numerous illustrations, the book can be digested in short bursts, making it ideal for plane or train trips.

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Stolen Beauty

By Laurie Lico Albanese

Fans of the excellent film “Woman in Gold” should consider picking up this novelization of the personalities surrounding Klimt’s luminous painting “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” The book moves back and forth between the life of Bloch-Bauer in prewar Vienna, when she posed for the painting (and had an affair with Klimt), and the life of Maria Altmann, her niece, who escaped the Vienna of the Anschluss and had to fight to recover the painting stolen by the Nazis and later retained by the Austrian government.

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Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology

By Eric H. Cline

Like “Fallen Glory,” this survey of many of archaeology’s most important sites covers a range of exotic (and familiar) locations around the world. The author’s specialty is the Aegean Bronze Age, but he discusses discoveries as diverse as pre-modern human remains in Africa to Incan cities in Peru to the Terracotta Army in Xi’an. It’s particularly fascinating to read how various groups attempt to spin archaeological discoveries to support their own narratives. And amateur archaeologists will surely find the “how-to” sections irresistible.

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By Hideaway Report Staff

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