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The Best Books to Read on Staycation

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As someone who has previously described herself as “indoorsy,” it probably won’t surprise you to learn that a staycation is my favorite type of vacation.

With a staycation, there’s no stuffing four pairs of shoes into an already overstuffed suitcase. With a staycation, there’s no pesky air travel. With a staycation, there’s no landing in Santorini only to find out that your luggage has gone missing and you have to make a single pair of underwear last god knows how long (not to mention the fact that the only bathing suit available in the closest shop is a string bikini: the horror!!!).

Nope.

With a staycation, I can full-on relax in my clearly defined comfort zone, slipping seamlessly from night leggings to day leggings and back again, not worrying about whether or not I have the correct piece of apparel for every possible scenario.

With a staycation, I don’t have to worry about getting a traffic ticket from Florence, Italy seven months later, presumably for driving through a restricted area.

With a staycation, I don’t have to worry about getting stranded on the secluded outer reaches of an island when the gas in my rented four-wheeler runs out.

With a staycation, I can just…read.

If I have you convinced, then the only question left is: What to read?

Here are a few suggestions based on some recent favorite reads.

Books That Allow You to Experience Other Places Without Leaving the Comfort of Your Own Home

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver - book cover - closeup of a tree with white text floating over it

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

I may be a curmudgeonly hermit who avoids going outdoors for fear that a wasp might possibly exist near me, but I do enjoy books with a strong sense of place, books that allow me to experience other parts of the world without actually experiencing other parts of the world. The first books that ever did this for me were Barbara Kingsolver’s earlier books. I fell in love with Arizona through her descriptions of the state. But my favorite from her is Prodigal Summer, which follows the stories of three people who are living in the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia.

Cover of You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi.

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

This super-sexy romance (seriously; it is HOT) has a lot going on: a woman who lost the love of her life to a car accident; a fledgling art career; an uncomfortable love triangle. But the backdrop to all of this is a massive estate at the top of a mountain on a gorgeous tropical island. So, if you want to see the tropics come alive without ever risking the possibility of a sunburn, Emezi’s got your back.

Books That Let You See the World from a Different Perspective

A graphic of the cover of Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig

Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig

As a white, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-middle-class, cisgender woman, I see the world from a very limited perspective. So I rely upon books (particularly memoir) to broaden my understanding of others’ experiences. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately about disability justice, as I know it’s been an area of weakness for me in the sex ed work I do, and I especially love this memoir-in-essays from Taussig. In it, she shares memories from across her lifespan, showing how it feels to live in a body the world doesn’t seem to make space for. In the process, she challenges readers to rethink their own assumptions about and approaches to disability.

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong book cover

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

I brought Minor Feelings to AWP the other month, using it as a security blanket as I navigated my first in-person event in over two years and, my god, I have never had so many strangers approach me to rave about a book. It’s well-deserved, though. Hong is the daughter of Korean immigrants, and in this blend of memoir and cultural criticism she’s created, she deftly explores what it means to be Asian American in a country that fosters internalized shame and self-hatred.

Natural Mother of the Child cover

The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcolm Belc

In this memoir-in-essays, Belc — who is nonbinary and transmasculine — grapples with pregnancy. There are the usual sources of agita, of course. The general discomfort. The sense that your body is no longer your own. But these aspects are only heightened as Belc interrogates the intersections of parenthood and gender identity. The disconnect Belc experiences comes from both within and without as he manages societal expectations and also picks apart his own ambivalence around his own trans journey.

Acne by Laura Chinn - book cover - black text against a pale pink background that also has a smattering of red dots of varying size

Acne: A Memoir by Laura Chinn

This one doesn’t come out until July (Hachette Books, July 19, 2022), but I highly recommend it for your mid-to late-summer staycations…the ones you find you need because you’re sick to death of underboob sweat and also of your child’s face. When’s the first day of school again? Anyway. This hilarious memoir is by and about a woman who has suffered from a terrible case of self-esteem-crushing cystic acne her entire life. But it’s also about so much more than that. It’s about growing up mixed-race in a broken home where things just seem to get worse and worse. It’s about making it through each day in spite of multiple obstacles, and weathering the fallout from multiple tragedies. It’s about how, through it all, Chinn maintains her sense of humor, continuing to push forward until, by the end, she finds a sort of redemption.

Quick Reads That Pack an Emotional Punch

In by Will McPhail - book cover - line drawing of a beige young man against a beige background peering through a doorway filled with vivid greenery. Title is in a matching green, all caps, in the upper left corner of the cover.

In: A Graphic Novel by Will McPhail

Sometimes, when full-on prose feels too taxing, I like to chillax with a comic. This graphic novel is my latest love. Written by McPhail, a regular New Yorker cartoonist, In is about a young man who has trouble connecting with others. It’s only when the protagonist learns to speak from the heart that the world around him really comes alive. There was such a relaxed sense of humor throughout this book that I was taken by surprise when things got heavy. It felt right, though, and because of the character development that had come before, I actually burst into tears. McPhail’s use of color is also masterful. It’s used sparingly to represent the bursts of emotional connection the protagonist experiences in the midst of a life that feels, on the whole, very black and white. Do pick this one up.

cover of Instructions for Dancing

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

For another quick read that still manages to bring all the feels, I recommend this YA romance by Yoon who, honestly, never disappoints. In her latest, the young protagonist doesn’t believe in love, thanks to a latently developed power in which, upon observing a couple’s first kiss, she sees a vision of the couple’s entire love story, from beginning all the way to its heartbreaking end. But then, while taking ballroom dance lessons, she finds herself falling for someone. How can she possibly trust it?

Additional Genre-Tastic Treats

black tide book cover

Black Tide by KC Jones

Let’s start with horror. You know that’s my jam. In this new sci-fi/horror blend, a man and a woman who’ve made a mess of their lives spend one passionate night together…only to wake up to a world that’s in shambles. The point of view shifts back and forth between these two main protagonists as they fight for their lives in the midst of what’s become a living nightmare. I don’t want to reveal too much more, but the product page describes it as a cross between Cujo and A Quiet Place. Why do I include it here? Because it’s FUN, and staycations are all about fun, particularly of the effortless sort.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

The next title on this list is a fantasy that leans heavily on fairy tales… but takes it all in the most delightful of directions. A young princess is determined to save her older sister from the abusive prince to whom she’s been married. But how to do so without placing her kingdom at risk of retaliation? Somehow, a cloak of nettles, a dog made of bones, a godmother, and other pieces of magic carry her toward her goal. I raced through this one. I couldn’t help myself. I’m not typically a fan of fantasy, but Kingfisher had never led me astray before, and she didn’t this time either.

cover of Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano

Let’s lighten the mood a bit, why don’t we? This comedic thriller is the sequel to Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, which is about a single mom whose life is a mess when, on top of it all, she’s accidentally hired as a contract killer. The first book was a trip, and the sequel continues to bring all the LOLs. In this installment, our protagonist learns that someone wants her ex-husband dead. And sure, he may be a dirtbag. But does she want her children to be fatherless? She spends the book trying to find out who’s behind the hit on her ex and, well, things just keep getting wackier.

The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan cover

The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

And finally (::drum roll::), we have another steamy romance, because what’s a staycation without some sexytime, solo or otherwise? In this book (which is the first in a series), Chloe Fong is a woman who lives by her lists, trying not to waste brain space on the guy she’s loved since she was a child. But when he comes back to town, trying to woo her while at the same time agonizing over the massive secret he’s carrying, she doesn’t know which to follow: her brain or her heart.

And there you have it. My staycation must-haves. If these aren’t enough (understandable; you wouldn’t believe how many books I read on my last vacation), I suggest you check out this list of beach reads, or this mega list of the buzziest and best summer reads for 2022.

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