Five Late-Summer Reads That Feel Like a Getaway

The following novels and short story collections will transport you across the globe—and across time itself.

Summer is nearing its end, putting a damper on unrealized warm-weather dreams, and it’s all too easy to fixate on the places we didn’t go and things we didn’t do as the coming chilly days loom ever larger on the horizon. While there’s no way to stop the relentless march of time, there is one foolproof way to slow it. Losing oneself in a great book has always been a tried-and-true antidote to the late summer blues.

A hand holding a book over a picnic blanket
Losing yourself in a great book can be almost as good as a summer getaway. Photo by Camille Brodard on Unsplash

The following novels and short story collections will transport you across the globe—and across time itself—from Turin to Moscow to contemporary Bushwick to an Islamic Golden Age harem. Whether you’re in the mood for a gripping family saga, a steamy story of an illicit love affair or an intimate unpacking of young women’s friendships, the following five books offer a vacation’s worth of literary delights.

Every Rising Sun by Jamila Ahmed

In her retelling of The One Thousand and One Nights, Jamila Ahmed makes Scheherazade a narc. The character, famous for staving off her execution by telling great stories to her murderous king of a husband, gains a voice and backstory in Every Rising Sun. In brief: Scheherazade betrays the queen who precedes her by revealing that she’s cheating on the king, leading him to behead her and a series of subsequent virgin wives.

Scheherazade’s guilt impels her to offer herself up next. But she devises a brave plan: “On my wedding night, I will begin a story, but cut it off at dawn. I will tell him that the resolution will have to come the next night,” she says. Thus she saves herself and women throughout the kingdom. Ahmed’s ambitious book leaves some psychological questions underexplored—this queen was willing to risk her life to cheat on her husband with… apparently anyone—and the details surrounding Scheherazade’s fateful betrayal could have been a book on its own. Yet the gripping plot and faithful rendering of the Islamic Golden Age will propel you through the pages.

The Absolutes by Molly Dektar 

The Absolutes makes a strong case for the unreliability of any narrator caught up in romantic obsession. During an extended stay in Turin when she’s fifteen, Nora has an incredibly brief interaction on a ski gondola with a guy named Nicola. When she runs into him years later at her New England university, and then again in New York, she constructs elaborate ideas about the meaning of their connection and their initial meeting, which seem to have very little grounding in the reality of the novel.

As Nora embarks on an affair with the now-married Nicola, she also becomes preoccupied with his wealthy family’s malign secrets and begins to ruin her life. “I could barely eat, so I tricked myself and ate while I was walking,” Nora says. “One evening I ate my bread roll at full speed on Canal Street and choked. Briefly I panicked, the world slow and quiet around me as I thought, I’m going to die here… Though I was surrounded by hundreds of people, no one noticed any of this.” An intense loneliness both consumes and compels the narrator. A Gothic tinge and carefully drawn, elite atmosphere bring to mind Donna Tartt and make Nora’s narration especially fun.

Vanishing Maps by Cristina García

A book cover featuring flowers and a cigarette
‘Vanishing Maps’ by Cristina García. Penguin Random House

This intergenerational family saga traces the path of a far-flung diaspora. Branches of the Cuban del Pino family have landed in Berlin, Moscow, Los Angeles and Miami. Across these distances, they connect and disconnect. A dead mother appears as a ghost, a living mother struggles to gain her daughter’s trust and a woman on the verge of death considers consummating one last love affair.

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This book is a follow-up to García’s 1992 novel Dreaming in Cuban, though it’s not being advertised as a sequel. Regardless of your familiarity with the characters, it’s enjoyable and heartbreaking to move around the world with them. “Home?” one character wonders. “What did she mean by ‘home?’” These questions are at the heart of the novel.

I Meant It Once by Kate Doyle

Doyle captures the vicissitudes of young women’s relationships with themselves, their siblings, their friends and lovers throughout her short stories. With a spare, soft touch, she celebrates the intimacies and mourns the losses that shape her characters’ lives. New York City, with its perpetual reinventions, serves as a meaningful backdrop through many of these tales. Major emergencies happen in Doyle’s stories—one young woman suffers a fatal fall down the stairs, leaving her friends to contend with her absence—though the writer is just as sympathetic to the melancholies that result from small regrets and relocations. One story begins: “Christine begins to fixate on certain turning points in her own history—what might have happened otherwise, if she’d made different choices.” Doyle explores those choices and turning points with wit, lovely language and skillful elisions.

After the Funeral by Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley is a contemporary master of the short story. Like Alice Munro, she seems to find endless inspiration and narrative power in everyday moments and lives. The title story, which was published in the New Yorker, is a stunner, quiet at first, building with significant propulsion to a bold, shocking yet inevitable conclusion. Honesty and strangeness pervade the narration. “Naturally, they were also grief-stricken, but, then again, they hadn’t known their father very well and hadn’t enormously liked him,” Hadley writes about a pair of girls who have just lost a parent. They tend to their mother as other swiftly drawn, wonderfully realized characters enter and exit the scene. Just how much feeling and life can you pack into one short story? Hadley’s tales give us entire worlds.

Five Late-Summer Reads That Feel Like a Getaway