As Emily Dickinson wrote, there is no frigate like a book to take us lands away. Summer isn't all vacation; for those weeks you're stuck at a desk, Slate staffers recommend books that took them places they've never been.
Lucky Us, by Amy Bloom
Recommended by Emily Bazelon: "Amy Bloom's novel Away is one of my favorite books — a tale of love and suffering, about an immigrant mother's search for her daughter, that for me is the Jewish version of Beloved. This year Bloom has a new novel called Lucky Us that I also thoroughly enjoyed. It's a story of two half-sisters: Iris the sparkling starlet and Eva the mordant sidekick, and their downward spiral, against the backdrop of World War II, from Hollywood to Long Island. This book is about scheming and thievery, and how you can stitch together a self-identity out of all kinds of scrap cloth. It's rollicking, cinematic, and great fun.''
The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara
Recommended by Torie Bosch: "This is not the romantic South Pacific of Bali honeymoons. Hanya Yanagihara's troubling, beautiful novel follows a young doctor on a research expedition to an island whose people hold a secret to eternal life. From there, it examines scientific ethics large and small while riffing on the infamous case of D. Carleton Gajdusek, a Nobel Prize winner charged with molesting children he adopted from the South Pacific.''
Hot Pink, by Adam Levin
Recommended by Alexandra Coakley: "Adam Levin's collection of stories took me inside the obsessive minds of people falling quickly and cruelly in love in Chicago. A legless, lesbian wunderkind finally gets the girl just in time to meet her untimely end, the author of 'the world's greatest love letter' never reaches his origami-loving office crush, and a Skinnerian drug dealer falls for a girl who likes to get punched in the face by strange men. Levin's love stories are beautiful and thrilling and ultimately, doomed. In the summer at least, I prefer them that way.''
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Recommended by Hana Glasser: "Summer's as good a time as any for bleak (fascinating, beautiful) dystopian fiction. In Ishiguro's sixth novel, a young woman's experience at a boarding school for 'special' children takes on new meaning. The world he creates is steadily disquieting and scarily close to home.''
The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud
Recommended by Laura Helmuth: "Yeah, I know: a young adult book about magic. But it's summer! The main character is a snide demon with a vicious sense of humor, and the books lay out a mechanism for magic that is self-consistent and logical within its own world. The books are funny, dark, and utterly transporting.''
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell
Recommended by Joshua Keating: "A painstakingly meticulous and vivid recreation of an underappreciated historical turning point—Japan's reluctant opening to the outside world in the 18th century—a star-crossed love story, and a gripping adventure. If you liked Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, this one is even better.''
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
Recommended by Miriam Krule: "This book is all about going to places you never thought existed. Though the book's been dubbed by some as Harry Potter for adults, it feels more accurate to think of it as Harry Potter with adults. While the first part of the novel deals with a Hogwarts-like school, the rest is devoted to the angst of post-grad life and, well, discovering that a made-up Narnia-like land really exists. The final installment in the trilogy comes out today, so now's the perfect time to go to Fillory.''
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
Recommended by Rachael Larimore: "In her novel about a woman who is repeatedly reincarnated, Kate Atkinson takes us to the same places — the English countryside, London, Germany — again and again. The story is really transportive, though, when Atkinson plants her protagonist, Ursula, into the middle of the Blitz. She conveys both the horror of war — the panic, the smell of the bombs and fire, the randomness of who lives and who dies — and the very British sang-froid response.''
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B.J. Novak
Recommended by Dahlia Lithwick: "I loved this book, a series of short essays on everything ranging from dating a warlord to trying to check in with your grandma in Heaven. It's a twisty and wonderful journey into the strange and magical brain of a person who thinks at about five levels of weirdness simultaneously. It's hilarious and dark and mad and you'll find yourself quoting bits of it back to yourself forever after.''
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
Recommended by Ava Lubell: "A fantastical mystery novel set in an alternate Britain where all bow down to the cult of the written word, the book features incorrigible, magically enhanced villains, very human heroes, time-travelling parents, and dodos brought back from extinction to live a life of marshmallow-eating leisure. Fforde's whimsical stories are a total delight.''
A Life in Men, by Gina Frangello
Recommended by Abby McIntyre: "From Grecian beaches to bohemian London, a Kenyan safari, Mexico, the Midwest, Marrakech, and more, this novel bounds between exotic locales to tell the life of Mary, a stubbornly adventurous young woman, not just in men but also in places. Each spot is described with as much immersive detail as the last as Mary inhales the world around her in what little time she has.''
Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended by Dan Skahen: "Intelligent characters, a riveting narrative and the reversal of virtually every convention in the genre make this the best fantasy I have read to date. Mistborn is a breezy read that takes your imagination on an epic ride.''
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Recommended by Ann-Marie Taylor: "I'm half sad and half relieved that my childhood bears no resemblance to this story, which is magical yet creepy at the same time. What if childhood nightmares were true, and there were 'spaces beneath the fences' that hid entire magical worlds?''
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
Recommended by Julia Turner: "If you haven't read Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, do. It will take you to many places you've never been before because they don't exist. The story is one long conversation between explorer Marco Polo and emperor Kublai Khan, in which Polo describes all the cities he has seen. There's one that's just plumbing and women in bathtubs. There's one that's made out of string. My favorite is the one that's just the vision of a city you have before you go there, and the city itself writes over your prior mental image of it. It's also a book that is basically a poem, a taut but expansive little volume that will blow your mind best if you consume it in one sitting. Read it in one afternoon in a hammock with a glass of lemonade cooling your spare hand and a contemplative state of mind.''
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, by Jan Potocki
Recommended by Katy Waldman: "It's 1739 and a cocky young soldier on his way to Madrid loses his way in the mountains of the Sierra Morena. He falls into a company of thieves, gypsies, cabbalists, geometers, ghosts, and knights, each of whom has a story to tell. In the gorgeous and bonkers knot of interweaving tales that coheres, sort of, over the next 66 days, the officer is seduced by two Moorish princesses (who may also be the dead brothers of Zoto the bandit), arm-wrestles the memory of his authoritarian father, and uncovers an international conspiracy of underground Muslim mystics. What I love about this collection of stories (all overlapping and echoing in mind-bending ways) is the pleasure it takes in polyphony — lots of crazy people talking — coupled with its use of silence and mystery.''
A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
Recommended by Emily Yoffe: "I've never hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I don't have to because Bill Bryson did it for me in this incomparable tale. He set out to walk all 2,100 miles accompanied by his former classmate Katz, an overweight, recovering addict who just before the journey starts declares, 'I gotta eat something every hour or so or I have, whadayacallit, seizures.' This hilarious account will both transport you and make you so grateful for your cozy bed.''