The best books to read on vacation

  1. Calypso by David Sedaris

I love David Sedaris … so much so that I waited in the basement of Massey Hall until 1 AM just to meet him. And I waited for hours. By the time I reached the front of that line, I thought I hated the guy. What made him think I’d wait four hours just to get my book signed? But then I met him. And we chatted for about ten minutes. He wrote “Neil, I am so happy you’re alive” in my book. No wonder it took four hours to finally get to the front, he actually talks to his fans! He gets to know them!

So, as someone who will wait in line for four hours just to talk to David Sedaris for ten minutes, I now pronounce Calypso as the Best David Sedaris Book. It reads beautifully yet slowly and is darker than any of his other books. His hilarious essays meld together perfectly to accurately portray what it’s like to be middle-aged.

2. Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

You know I love fiction. Because when you read fiction, your brain thinks you’re the boy on the boat, that you’re the man searching for meaning. But this is the only novel on my list of vacation reads.

The plot isn’t too crazy, and the shorter chapters make it an easy-to-read vacation book.

The protagonist, Jende Jonga, is a Cameroonian immigrant with a wife and a young son.

The story explores his life as a newcomer and provides you with a fresh, behind-the-scenes perspective on what it’s like to be an immigrant. This book also made it into Oprah’s Book Club.

3. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

This book is best read on a beach. It’s like reading a better version of one of those trashy celebrity magazines filled with child actors. I find those a bit disheartening. They’re just children!

I knew Carrie Fisher played Princess Leia. But I had no idea Carrie Fisher grew up as one of those kids plagued by paparazzi whose lives are displayed all over magazine stands. Carrie is the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (the Brangelina power couple in the 50s).

In this book, she paints an enlightening, maddening image of what it was like to be brought up in the limelight amidst Hollywood’s biggest celebrities … while battling severe mental illness including bipolar disorder and addiction. Thought-provoking, captivating, and stomach-wrenchingly funny.

4. I'm Just A Person by Tig Notaro

Tig Notaro spent nine days after her double-breast cancer diagnosis writing and then delivering a standup comedy routine all about cancer. And then it went viral.

This memoir takes a big step back and chronicles the worst year of her life – a severe illness, her mother’s freak accident death, a breakup, and then the big C – with refreshing grace and perspective.

The engine in this book gets faster as it goes and by the end we’re wrestling with huge questions in the deep end of the pool. (Which is why this book is best read in a floaty in the deep end of a pool).

How do you really live every day like it’s your last? Tig offers perspective through pain.

5. Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On And Never Will by Judith Schalansky

Do you ever want to run away from it all?

Forget living on Mars with Elon Musk. Why not visit Christmas Island or the Scattered Islands way off the coast of Madagascar?

I love this book because it tells stories of all those tiny remote islands I've rubbed fingers over on globes while briefly wondering … what is going on there? 

Every island has a beautiful map, a timeline of civilization, and a story related to our connection to it.

And special props for best sub-headline I've seen in a while. 

6. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

James Frey finds solace in the Tao Te Ching in his incredible memoir A Million Little PiecesA lot of the little poems or words of wisdom resonated with me from that book so I looked for a copy. What’s the biggest problem finding a “book” written over 2500 years ago? Picking a translation. The used bookstore near my house had about a dozen. I kept opening and looking for one where I could make sense of what I was reading and finally settled on a translation by David Hinton.

I love reading a few of these before bed at night. Sometimes they rattle around my brain, sometimes I feel like I’m lost in a zen koan (shoutout to end-of-podcasters), and sometimes I feel like I pull something beautiful from them.

Here’s a sample: “7. There’s a reason heaven and earth go on enduring forever / their life isn’t their own / so their life goes on forever. / Hence, in putting himself last / the sage puts himself first, / and in giving himself up / he preserves himself. / If you aren’t free of yourself / how will you ever become yourself?”