What to Read on Vacation

Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine

1. Twisted Travelogues

Bangkok Days
By Lawrence Osborne (North Point Press)
Having come to Thailand for work on his teeth, Osborne, a middle-aged journalist, becomes an accidental expat, and recounts the darkly amusing results.

EXCERPT: “There was a knock on the door, and then two small girls dressed as traffic cops came in, their thick leather belts jangling with handcuffs, whistles, and plastic pistols. They announced their names, and although I was used to the fanciful names of Bangkok working girls—girls called Air, Pinky, Gift, Sand, and Ma—the fact that my teerak were called Bum and Cartoon did not make it any easier. The one called Cartoon strode into the room with a cheeky grin, laid her black accessories box on the bed, and put her hands on her hips.

‘You go me!’ she shouted in English.
‘I what?’
‘I go you. You go us.’
Bum was close behind. ‘You go me. We go you.’
‘I’m going,’ I said.”

An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town
By David Farley (Gotham Books)
Farley malingers in Calcata, an Italian village roiled by the disappearance of Jesus’ foreskin— a relic so embarrassing to the Vatican that some suspect its involvement in the theft.

Between the Assassinations
By Aravind Adiga (Free Press)
Short stories from the Booker-winning author of The White Tiger. Gritty realism contrasts with cheekily bland excerpts from an imaginary guidebook to an imaginary Indian city.

The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life
By Andy Raskin (Gotham Books)
Raskin, who can’t seem to stop cheating on his girlfriends, tries to seek advice from Momofuku Ando, the titular noodle master and Japanese cultural hero.

2. New York Stories

Let the Great World Spin
By Colum McCann (Random House)
A sweeping novel of the city in the seventies told partly through the eyes of an Irish immigrant.

EXCERPT: “I’d been in the South Bronx a week. It was so humid, some nights, we had to shoulder the door closed. Kids on the tenth floor aimed television sets at the housing cops who patrolled below. Air mail … On the radio there was a song about the revolution being ghettoized. Arson on the streets. It was a city with its fingers in the garbage, a city that ate off dirty dishes. I had to get out.”

Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City
By Anthony Flint (July 28; Random House)
The origin story of modern New York. Shorter and more manageable than The Power Broker.

The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream
By Patrick Radden Keefe (July 21; Doubleday)
The chronicle of a middle-aged Chinese woman known as Sister Ping who became the Don Corleone of Fujianese immigrant-smuggling.

3. American Nightmares

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
By Josh Neufeld (August 18; Pantheon)
The lives of ordinary people swept up by Hurricane Katrina, in graphic-novel form.


Illustration courtesy of Knopf

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town
By Nick Reding (Bloomsbury)
A portrait of an Iowa hamlet overtaken by a drug that’s as ravaging as crack.

By William T. Vollmann (July 30; Viking)
A kaleidoscopic, enormous (1,344-page) investigative exploration of the border territory of Imperial County, California.

Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine

4. Breakouts

By Nicola Keegan (July 14; Knopf)
First novel about a natural-born swimmer who grows up to be an Olympic champion, beginning, a bit like Tristram Shandy, with memories of her freakishly buoyant infancy.

EXCERPT: “I have no idea my feet are special, am simply impressed that they heed my call. I kick both legs at once, executing a perfect flip, as everyone, including Leonard, sucks their breath in. The Glenwood aqua aerobics class hears the commotion, stops in mid-twirl, and runs to the edge of the baby pool … I do a perfect figure eight as the crowd gasps … My chins have piled upon each other like an accordion, squirting out water instead of notes. I have no idea what I am.”

The Others
By Seba Al-Herz (July 30; Seven Stories Press)
Already a best seller in Arabic (and published pseudonymously), this Saudi novel, in which a closeted lesbian Shia girl feverishly narrates her struggles and affairs, offers a rare personal glimpse into the repressive kingdom.

This Is Where I Leave You
By Jonathan Tropper (August 6; Dutton)
The Gen-X cult favorite’s fifth novel might be his ticket to wider acclaim. Best line: “There’s nothing in life, really, to prepare you for the experience of seeing your wife have sex with another man.”

Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine

5. From the Greats

Inherent Vice
By Thomas Pynchon (August 4; Penguin Press)
The elusive writer’s foray into hippie noir.

EXCERPT: “Doc had outrun souped-up Rollses full of indignant smack dealers on the Pasadena Freeway, doing a hundred in the fog and trying to steer through all those crudely engineered curves, he’d walked up back alleys east of the L.A. River with nothing but a borrowed ’fro pick in his baggies for protection, been in and out of the Hall of Justice while holding a small fortune in Vietnamese weed, and these days had nearly convinced himself all that reckless era was over with, but now he was beginning to feel deeply nervous again.”

My Father’s Tears: And Other Stories(Knopf); and The Maple Stories (August 4; Everyman’s Library)
By John Updike
Updike’s last collection of stories has just hit stores; next month, his eighteen-story arc of a doomed marriage, collected in hardcover for the first time, with a where-are-they-now account of the Maples titled “Grandparenting.”

The Skating Rink
By Roberto Bolaño (August 28; New Directions)
The posthumous Bolaño translation bonanza continues apace with this tale of love, corruption, crime, and Olympic sport.

What to Read on Vacation