Pack patience and your e-reader.
It bears repeating that this summer has been a big, frustrating travel mess. Your holiday will most likely hit a few snags, whether you’re flying within the U.S. or heading to Europe. So, the expert advice is to pack patience. It will help your mood if you bring a book (or preferably an e-reader with a few good ones) that will get you through the worst of it without losing your mind.
I have picked books from my to-read pile that have always intimidated me with their size—all of these are 500+ pages. I’m sure you, too, have a list somewhere with the thickest books that you haven’t been able to commit to. Well, when a flight is delayed and there’s nothing better to do, one of these engaging stories can become an escape, especially since they are long enough to sustain for hours and hours. Normally, I’d just go with Pride and Prejudice or Harry Potter or finally finish The Complete Works of Shakespeare, but this long list is rich with other flavorful additions.
This summer, hope for the best and fight the Airmegeddon with literary armor.
Top Picks for You
'To Paradise' by Hanya Yanagihara
An international bestseller that was released this year, To Paradise has received polarizing reviews. The book is divided into three parts: an alternate 1893 America where homosexuality is accepted, a 1993 Manhattan struggling with AIDS, and a 2093 dystopian world with totalitarian rule. Whether you think of this as a masterpiece or a drag, you will appreciate what the author is trying to do with these contrasting themes: progress, identity, race, health, and politics. The book is filled with tragedy and miseries, so take care of your heart with this one.
'A Suitable Boy' by Vikram Seth
I’ve had this book on my wishlist for a long time. It’s nearly 1,500 pages, one of the longest English books to be published. Set in the 1950s, after India gained independence, the epic weaves the stories of four middle-class families. The main protagonist is Lata, a 19-year-old who, throughout the course of the book, will find a “suitable boy” to marry. Politics, partition, caste, and religion play major roles in this novel, along with love, complexities of arranged marriages, and familial bonding. It was recently turned into a Mira Nair-directed mini-series, which can be found on Netflix.
'Les Misérables' by Victor Hugo
Another highly recommended classic that asks for serious devotion. Nearly 1,500 pages worth of commitment is required. Published in 1862, Victor Hugo’s masterpiece takes you to Paris in 1815, where Jean Valjean starts a new life after spending 19 years in prison. There are multiple stories within the novel, many parallel-running characters fighting for survival and redemption, and it’s not a happy, fluffy novel—the author makes it clear in the title.
If you are familiar with any of its TV, movie, or musical adaptations, you know this will show you the dark side of life.
'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand
Russian-born Ayn Rand is one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. The philosopher who introduced the world to Objectivism has many novels to her name. Arguably, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are her two most popular works. I labored through Atlas Shrugged and it has to be one of the most intelligent books I’ve read in my life—I kept re-reading pages to understand the complicated philosophy (for my teen self).
Since it took such a long time to get through Atlas Shrugged, I have kept The Fountainhead on hold. In 750 pages, she tells the story of Howard Roark, an architect who wants to go against the grain with his unconventional design ideas. He is renounced by society and his peers, who want him to conform to traditional ideas. Creativity, free thinking, and individualism are the backbone of this book, and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism shines through and through.
'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy
This book will also earn you bragging rights if you manage to finish it while waiting for your flight. Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote this in 1867 and it has multiple translations (there is even debate about the best one). Whichever one you pick, it will take you to Russia in 1812 during Napoleon’s invasion. Tolstoy chronicles how the invasion impacted Russian families, particularly aristocrats, who are at the center of all the love, grief, and struggle.
It is considered one of the greatest epics ever written, and there are several adaptations including TV shows, films, and musicals that can entertain you if you don’t feel like finishing the novel.
'1Q84' by Haruki Murakami
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is an international bestseller. 1Q84, or 1984, is a 2009 novel that follows two characters over the course of a year. While riding in a taxi, a woman named Aomame discovers the parallel world and calls it 1Q84, where “Q” is for Question Mark. The second protagonist is Tengo, a writer, who is also trying to decipher what is real. This is a fantastical love story shrouded with mystery and it takes 928 pages to find the way out of this magical maze.
'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton
This Man Booker Prize Winner of 2013 is set in New Zealand. In 1866, the novel’s main character Walter Moody travels to South Island’s Hokitika in search of a fortune during the gold rush. On arrival, he gets involved with a mystery after he stumbles upon 12 men discussing unusual events: a death, an attempted suicide, and the discovery of a fortune. The historical novel has a distinctive theme: astrology. The 12 men represent the 12 zodiac signs and there are other references peppered throughout its 850 pages.
'Alice Munro’s Best' by Alice Munro
Canadian author Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, but it’s not the only honor she has received for her writing. The 91-year-old short story writer is a master of her craft. This book is a collection of 17 stories and features an introduction by another veteran, Margaret Atwood. It’s on my list because it is known that Munro portrays women and girls in a special way and there is a little of her own experiences in these pages.
'Passage' by Connie Willis
It’s been more than 20 years since Connie Willis wrote this science thriller. In this gripping tale, psychologist Dr. Joanna Lander tries to understand near-death experiences by interviewing people who came back from the dead. She teams up with neurologist Dr. Richard Wright who has discovered a drug to induce near-death experiences, and volunteers to undergo the experience herself. This 780-page novel is emotional, philosophical, and funny with references to world events including the sinking of the Titanic.
'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie’s popular novel was awarded the Booker Prize. It relays the story of India’s independence from the British and the partition of India and Pakistan. The protagonist Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, when the country gained independence and he is closely linked to the country’s events. He thinks it’s happening because of him. There are 1,000 other children born in the first hour of the new country’s birth and they’re all telepathically connected.
The novel dabbles in magical realism, so the historic events like the migration of Hindus and Muslims after the partition and the emergency of 1975 are retold through that lens.