5 Books That Must Go On Your European Vacation Reading List

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Usually, the quest for the right book starts with needing in-flight entertainment — it's the thing that brings you into the airport bookstore in the first place. Or it causes you to stare at your giant to-be-read pile as you're packing your carry-on bag for your next flight while you prep for your first vacation in years. You've probably been prompted by hours of empty, disconnected time to fill that you're not obligated to monetize. So, you decide to indulge in a book (or three) to fill that time. When it comes to narrowing down which books to choose, though, the decision can be difficult.

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Do you pick up "Where the Crawdads Sing" since the movie just came out and the author is wanted in connection to murder? What about Ottessa Moshfegh's latest, "Lapvona," which, according to Literary Hub, is on at least 13 summer reading lists for 2022? With Leo season approaching, you can always go with books that are fiery in nature or title, like Michelle Hart's "We Do What We Do in the Dark," a Sally Rooney-esque coming-of-age campus story that's been described as both "moving and memorable" and "sensual and wise" (via Bookshop).

If you're anything like us, limiting the books you bring on vacation is the real problem. So, we've done the hard part of rounding up the best books to travel with. Even if you're only dreaming of a European vacation this summer, these stories will shake up your worldview and transport you to new places.

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Six Days in Rome by Francesca Giacco

Whether you're going to Rome or you're dying to, pick up Francesca Giacco's "Six Days in Rome." This "sensual and deliberately paced debut" follows Emilia, an American artist who travels to Rome by herself to make sense of heartbreak (via Publisher's Weekly).

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What "Six Days in Rome" does well is that it makes just as much sense of the ancient city at the heart of the book as it does love and heartbreak. "One of the reasons I set the book [in Rome]," Giacco explained during an interview with Bomb Magazine, "was to figure out how I felt about the city." For Giacco, Rome represents two competing ideologies. On one hand, she explains that Rome's "a very bodily place" where there's a "worship of beauty and sex, and people are very physical with one another." However, on the other hand, "you're also surrounded by antiquity and Catholicism."

For Emilia, not only is she trying to make sense of herself in what Kirkus Reviews calls a "slender, elegant, and detached story," but also who she is outside of her previous romantic relationship. She's also struggling to determine who she is outside of her relationship with her father, who's a famous musician.

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Warning: "Six Days in Rome" may inspire you to take a solo journey, even if it's only one of self-discovery. Just remember, there are some difficult places for a woman to travel alone, which is something to bear in mind before you start planning.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

One of the draws of writing about travel — and reading while traveling — is the journey, both physical and emotional. As Jan Morris wrote for Smithsonian Magazine, the best "travel writing" isn't about travel at all. Morris believes it's about "the effects of places or movements upon their own particular temperaments — recording the experience rather than the event, as they might make literary use of a love affair, an enigma, or a tragedy."

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In Olga Tokarczuk's Nobel Prize and Man Booker International Prize-winning book, "Flights," you'll be experiencing exactly this type of travel writing. Included on many "best of" lists, reading this collection of vignettes is described by Lonely Planet as taking a "truly epic stroll through Europe." The outlet goes on to say that reading the book allows you to meditate "on the nature of travel and the experiences to be found in airports and hotel lobbies."

In its review, The New Yorker said that Tokarczuk's "Flights" isn't just "a work of fiction, but it is also an exercise in theory, cultural anthology, and memoir." Of the writing style, they said Tokarczuk's unnamed narrator has a "hungry eye and an unappeasable need to travel," and each story felt like "found objects" Tokarczuk gathered for the reader.

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"Flights," as NPR's review points out, isn't one of those books that's easy to compare to others, but is an "ideal travel companion," (per The L.A. Review of Books), that you'll get something new out of each time you read it.

The Caretakers by Amanda Bestor-Siegal

No summer travel would be complete without a trip to France, which is exactly what you'll get in "The Caretakers" by Amanda Bestor-Siegal. Don't expect an easily solvable murder out of this summer thriller, though. According to The New York Times, "The Caretakers" is a "rejection of normal mystery conventions."

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"The mysterious death of a French child is blamed on an American au pair," writes Kirkus Reviews, "but there's more to the story." While "American au pair joins rich family in Europe" is a familiar story trope, Bestor-Siegal's "The Caretakers" is a darker read, brimming with the tension and anxiety in the direct aftermath of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. However, it's not just the terrorist attacks that have the residents of Maisons-Larue, France — a quiet, white suburb of Paris — on edge (via Publisher's Weekly).

Alena and Lou, the Americans in the novel, "seem fated to disappoint those who dare to love them," according to Kirkus Reviews. Where love goes, disappointment follows like a shadow, and not just for Lou and Alena. "Their employers have troubles of their own," writes The New York Times, "and the au pairs are just pawns in their larger preoccupations."

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Bestor-Siegal's "The Caretakers" might attract readers for its peek into the lives of affluent French families and its murder plot, but according to Publisher's Weekly, the characters themselves are the real story. A story that, while a slow burn, will capture your attention to the very last word.

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Prepping for a trip to Venice, or wishing you were? Add Rhys Bowen's "The Venice Sketchbook" to your summer reading list. 

"It started when I was a young teenager," Bowen told Publisher's Weekly during an interview about "The Venice Sketchbook" regarding her love of Venice. She was able to become so intimate with the setting because she spent her summers exploring Venice with only one rule: To meet back up with her family by dinner time. These experiences help breathe life into the setting of "The Venice Sketchbook," transporting the reader from their beach towel or airplane seat to another place and time.

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"The Venice Sketchbook" follows Caroline Grant as she grieves the end of her marriage, as well as the death of her favorite great-aunt, whose last word was "Venice." Venice is exactly where Caroline goes, carrying with her three keys and a sketchbook that belonged to her aunt Juliet (per The 52 Book Club). We also jump to Juliet and the journal entries she made when she arrived in Venice on the eve of World War II, where she lives up to her namesake and gets involved in her own star-crossed romance.

Shortlisted for the 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, "The Venice Sketchbook" has a mystery of identity at the heart of what the Library Journal calls an "engaging," entertaining blend between history, romance, and contemporary fiction.

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House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon

We're ending our European tour in Amsterdam, where a celebrated Israeli novelist returns to the city of his birth to try and understand his own history in Emuna Elon's "House on Endless Waters."

Described by Kirkus Reviews as a "story of love, loss, and yearning" that pays "thoughtful homage to the Jews of Amsterdam," the novel follows Yoel Blum to the one place he was forbidden to go: Amsterdam. After his mother dies, Yoel does go to Amsterdam — forced to visit on a book tour by his publisher — and stumbles upon unexpected pieces of his own history that give him a deeper, darker understanding of his own past. This isn't a normal war story, though, according to Kirkus Reviews. Instead, it's a lyrical, visual, and slow-burning story as Elon pulls the readers through "the creeping horrors of the Holocaust."

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In what The New York Times calls a "jewel box of a novel," you'll travel between Amsterdam and Israel and back again as Yoel confronts how the Holocaust impacted his own life and the lives of his family members. Not only does he bear witness to the horrors they lived through, Yoel struggles to comprehend exactly what living through these experiences was like (via USA Today).

"House on Endless Waters" was called a "deeply immersive achievement that brings to life stories that must never be forgotten," by USA Today, and should be on your summer reading list whether you're traveling or not.

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