If You Want to Drive Cross-Country with Your Dog Sitting Shotgun
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Stefan Marolachakis, senior editor, @stefanmymind
Travels with Charley is John Steinbeck's nonfiction travelogue about the cross-country road trip he embarked upon at the age of 60, alone except for the company of his trusty poodle, Charley. His stated goal: to acquaint himself with what he referred to as "the new America." He launched from Long Island, New York, and made it all the way to his native Salinas and back—with Charley at his side all the while.
Most Incredible Moment: I don't think I've ever related as deeply and instantly with a writer as I did when I first read this book's opening lines: "When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch... Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping."
If You Want to Throw a Bunch of Insane Costume Parties and Wreak Havoc on Your Town:
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
Rebecca Bates, senior editor, @re.beccabates
Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel satirizes the Bright Young Things, a group of bourgeois and aristocratic young people (which included Waugh and other writers and artists) who shocked London in the 1920s with their outrageous, destructive parties. Vile Bodies follows writer Adam Fenwick-Symes as he chases down the cash he needs to marry his girlfriend, which includes taking a job writing about his friends for a newspaper's society gossip column. The book ends with our luckless protagonist on a bleak, war-torn landscape, actually a fun twist on the staid romantic comedy.
Most Incredible Moment: This description of the Bright Young Things' endless parties is just brilliant: "...Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St. John's Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and nightclubs…."
If You Want to Go on a Passionate Trip to Italy:
Spending by Mary Gordon
Rebecca Deczynski, editorial assistant, @rebeccadecz
Yes, this novel gets quite steamy, but Mary Gordon's articulate, feminist prose is a far cry from the overplayed, awkward romance writing one might find in a typical beach read. Painter Monica Szabo challenges preconceived notions of the artist-muse relationship when B steps into her life, providing her with both the inspiration and the funds necessary to create her magnum opus—while also prompting a number of debates on ethics, relationships, religion, and the nature of art itself. If you're looking for a provocative (and occasionally erotic) novel with some brains behind it, this one's for you.
Most Incredible Moment: The scandalous—and definitively sacrilegious—epiphany that leads Monica to create her masterwork (and go on a couple of jaunts around Italy) is a jaw-dropping scene—I was left gasping at the audacity of Gordon's own thoughts.
If You Want to Channel Your Inner Rapscallion:
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Luke Crisell, editor, @lukecrisell
While on holiday (the book's English, I'm English—we'll have no "vacations" here, I'm afraid) in The Lake District, in the north of England, the children of two families—the Walkers and the Blacketts—join forces against a common enemy: "Captain Flint," a "retired pirate" who has abstained himself from the usual summer fun to write his memoirs. But the campaign needs a leader, so the Walkers, sailing a dinghy called Swallow, and the Blacketts, in a dinghy called Amazon, engage in adventure after adventure, capturing boats, and sailing by night to places with evocative names like Wild Cat Island, while the real enemy lurks elsewhere all along… Arthur Ransome's 1930 tale of childhood derring-do is a classic of children's literature and a celebration of youthful innocence that is also one of the first adventure stories I ever encountered; the wide-eyed excitement that glitters on the page hasn't dulled, and I doubt it ever will. I can't wait to read it to my kids one day, when I have some.
[Ed note: There have been numerous adaptations of the story but the new BBC film, with the addition of Russian spies, we're told, will be released in August.]
Most Incredible Moment: This is a world of children's make-believe so "incredible" might not be the right word. A memorable moment though is when Captain Nancy Blackett, implacable commander of the Swallows, surrenders to the Amazons rather than be late for breakfast. How wonderfully British! It's the most important meal of the day, after all.
If You Want Some Motivation to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation by J. Maarten Troost
Chantal Strasburger, assistant editor, @chantagold
I read this book after studying abroad in Shanghai, and J. Maarten Troost's observations and anecdotes had me both laughing out loud and wanting desperately to go back. Lost on Planet China follows Troost around one of the most intriguing countries in the world as he humorously experiences a culture that is unfamiliar to him, while skillfully summarizing the nation's vast and complex history. It's a great read for understanding the advantages of trying things that are unfamiliar to you (like yak, for example).
Most Incredible Moment: In a sneaky attempt to cross into North Korea unnoticed, Troost hires a tiny speedboat to quickly take him into North Korean waters and back—but as soon as they're six feet from the shore and North Korean soldiers take notice of him, the engine dies. I won't give away how it ends. Enjoy!
If You Want to Travel to Find the Best Food:
American Fried by Calvin Trillin
Martin Sanchez, writer, @thet_t
This is journalist and humorist Calvin Trillin's first book of food writing, published in 1974. (With the two books that followed, it forms what is now known as his "Tummy Trilogy.") American Fried is a collection of stories in which Trillin snubs the "fine dining" of the era by searching out America's most glorious food: the fare found in diners, roadside stands, and hole-in-the-wall eateries across the country.
Most Incredible Moment: It's impossible to pick one, but do enjoy this line between now and obtaining your own copy: "Fairs are good places to eat, particularly for stand-up eaters—which is one of the kinds of eaters I am, although when I eat standing up away from home I sometimes miss the familiar cool breeze coming from the open refrigerator."
If You Want to Get Ready for the Best Semester of Your Life:
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me by Richard Fariña
Christian Storm, Photo Editor, @cstorm44
This '60s counterculture classic begins with the main character, Gnossos Pappadopoulis (what a name!), returning to campus (a thinly veiled Cornell) in the fall, and follows him on an odyssey of women, cheap beer, and a quick trip to Cuba during the revolution. While the book is full of Beat Generation-style metaphors and themes, it is, at its heart, simply a story about the coolest kid at school.
Most Incredible Moment: To me, the most affecting part doesn't even happen in the book. Two days after Been Down So Long was published in 1966, 29-year-old Fariña was killed in a motorcycle accident, robbing the world of a burgeoning literary talent. Reading his final work with this knowledge adds an extra layer of gravitas.
If You Want to Experience a New City And Listen to Some Great Music:
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Catherine Fuentes, managing editor, @cat_fuentes
Patti Smith's first memoir tells the story of when she moved to New York City in the 1960s to pursue a life in the arts. Her chance meeting with artist Robert Mapplethorpe changed the course of her life, and Just Kids tells the story of the enduring friendship that developed as the two experienced New York's vibrant creative world, and pushed each other to grow as artists in their respective fields.
Most Incredible Moment: I couldn't put this book down when I first read it because of the vivid descriptions of some of New York's most storied cultural landmarks. As a New Yorker obsessed with classic rock, reading Smith's descriptions of interacting with legendary musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin at the Hotel Chelsea's restaurant El Quijote—a restaurant I grew up going to with my family—made this the first rock 'n' roll autobiography that I just got on a deeper level. Whenever I hear that someone is moving to New York to pursue anything creative (which might very well be one of the greatest adventures ever), this is the first book I recommend they read.
If You Want to Frolic In a Painting That's Set in the French Countryside
Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art by Christopher Moore
Chanel Parks, assistant editor, @chanelinezp
Where do I even start with this novel? Put simply: Vincent van Gogh dies under mysterious circumstances, and a baker in late 19th-century Paris teams up with infamous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to find out what happened. This curiosity leads them to two transcendent characters, one of whom is allegedly the muse behind a slew of well-known paintings from the beginning of time up through the Impressionist era . Yes, it's a work of fiction, but the fast-paced and deeply engrossing novel will put you in a tailspin.
Most Incredible Moment: There are too many great moments in this hyperactive novel, but one that stands out is right at the beginning of the book, where we're seeing van Gogh just moments before his death. Moore paints an idyllic, yet simplistic vision of France—one that made me want to be there instead of cooped up on a commuter bus, where I read this novel years ago. Case in point: "He set his easel at the pitchfork junction of three dirt roads. Three wheat fields lay before him and a cornfield behind. He was nearly finished with the painting, the golden wheat under an angry blue-black sky swirling with storm clouds."
If Your Preferred Surrealism is of the Magical Variety
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Natalia Tyndall, administrative assistant, @tallylabella
I've read this book in both its original Spanish, and an English translation, and it blew my mind equally in both forms. Márquez crafts an alternate world following multiple generations of the Buendía family in a magical town named Macondo. The meticulous manner in which he is able to portray an intricate web of characters and their inter-generational drama, while infusing it all with his signature brand of magical realism, makes this an absolute classic.
Most Incredible Moment: One theme of the novel is the inherently cyclical and repetitive nature of human behavior—which is what makes this line so important: "Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end."