Whether you’re relaxing at the park, posted up poolside or riding in the passenger seat on a long road trip, it’s always a good idea to pack or download a book (or five) to bring along on your summer vacations.
There’s no right or wrong way to read on vacation, but I’ve found certain books lend themselves better to vacation vibes than others. And while I’ve had some really great reading experiences with massive books like Roberto Bolano’s “2666,” Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” Megan Boyle’s “Liveblog” or Karl Ove Knausgard’s multivolume “My Struggle” series, big books are not always the best option when you’re looking for something quick to read between games of bocce or dips in the ocean, or while you wait for friends to get ready for dinner. (That said, I highly recommend those books and if you’re looking for a big book to read this summer, as those are all great options.)
Lately, when I’m on vacation or looking for something to bring along to read while chilling out at the park, I’ve found myself grabbing shorter books, books with short chapters, story collections or books that feel “fast-paced.”
Here are five books that fit that description nicely and, I think, would be perfect as vacation reads.
‘Teenager’ by Bud Smith
Bud Smith, author of several small-press collections of short stories, poetry and novels, published “Teenager” with Vintage last month. It’s the perfect cross-country road trip novel, not only because the plot is a cross-country road trip, but because it moves fast. But it’s not light reading. Smith’s sentences are smart, poetic and inventive. The book is addictive and its chapters are shot out in short bursts. “Teenager” tells the story of teenagers Kody Green and his girlfriend, Tella Carticelli, as they zip westward in stolen cars visiting American landmarks like Elvis Presley’s Graceland and the Grand Canyon. “Teenager” is cinematic in scope and feels like the films “Badlands” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”
‘Cowboy Graves’ by Roberto Bolano
Roberto Bolano has published more posthumous works than most writers published in a lifetime. “Cowboy Graves” comes nearly two decades after Bolano’s death and after a handful of other books put out by his estate. “Cowboy Graves” consists of three novellas — short for even short novels. Critics have called “Cowboy Graves” closer to drafts for novels more than completed works and if you’re just starting with Bolano, “Cowboy Graves” probably isn’t the one for you. But the size of the novellas and the rather disjointed plots are actually kind of perfect for picking up and putting down. And there are plenty of surprises and gems to be found inside for sure: for instance, when the story of passengers on an ocean liner turns into an alien adventure.
‘Men Without Women’ by Haruki Murakami
Fans of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s 2021 film “Drive My Car” will want to check out Haruki Murakami’s 2017 short story collection that features the short story of the same name that the film was based on. The six other short stories tackle the theme of loneliness, love and betrayal with humor and poignancy. And they all can be read in one sitting.
‘Tales of Falling and Flying’ by Ben Loory
If you were happy to know that you can read a single Murakami story in a sitting, you’ll be delighted to find out you can read several Ben Loory stories while you air dry from a dip in the pool. You may even be able to finish one before the bartender finishes mixing your margarita. There’s nothing like a loony Loory tale. His stories move between the surreal, absurd, comic and scary. Like the title suggests, you’re as apt to find yourself floating in space or falling down a well. You’re never sure where your footing is, but you’ll have a great time finding out. Perfect for campfire reading right before you head off to your own dreamland.
‘Kick the Latch’ by Kathryn Scanlan
You’ll have to save this one for a late summer vacation. Scanlan’s racetrack book will be released by New Directions on Sept. 6. Scanlan, a master of the short and surreal who delights in blurring and bending genres as well as reality, takes to the racetrack for “Kick the Latch.” Her story is based on transcribed interviews with Sonia, a horse trainer, and gives readers an intimate and poetic look behind the stables. This one is sure to land in the winner’s circle. If “Kick the Latch” sounds good to you, don’t worry; you’re nearing the home stretch.
Mike Andrelczyk is an LNP staff writer. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.