Picking a “destination novel” is the secret to great summer reading

Happy reading.
Happy reading.
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There’s nothing wrong with a fluffy romance or small-town murder mystery, but no one said summer reading has to revolve around the beach. “Destination-based reading,” “literary travel,” or “armchair traveling” is another simple way to whittle down your least of literary options, and it’s simple: Just pick a book based on where you’re spending time off.

Maybe your destination is also the book’s setting—whether the plot takes place 200 years in the future, or 400 years in the past. Perhaps the author hails from that place, or wrote the book while living there. You can read these books before or after you visit, or with the intention of visiting one day. The point is simply to immerse yourself in a destination, with a book or books as your guide.

The following list is sourced from Quartz staffers and discerning readers of the Quartzy newsletter, and sorted by continent. It is by no means comprehensive—or consistent: only some of our recommendations are on the lighter side—but it’s a great place to begin your search for the ideal armchair journey.


South East Asia, at large

The Beach by Alex Garland

  • “After discovering a seemingly Edenic paradise on an island in a Thai national park, Richard soon finds that since civilized behavior tends to dissolve without external restraints, the utopia is hard to maintain.” — Goodreads

Vietnam, at large

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

  • “A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.” — Goodreads

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

  • “A classic exploration of love, innocence, and morality in Vietnam…The Quiet American remains a terrifying and prescient portrait of innocence at large.” — Goodreads
  • “I have gifted [this] to people going to Vietnam for the first time.” — Quartz staff note

Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Saigon by Anthony Grey

  • “First published in 1982, [Saigon] has stood the test of time as critics predicted, and is now providing a new generation of readers with insights into that historic conflict – and its tragic echoes in Iraq.” — Goodreads

Japan, at large

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

  • “A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.” — Goodreads

Kobe, Japan

After the Quake, by Haruki Murakami.

  • “The six stories in Haruki Murakami’s mesmerizing collection are set at the time of the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake, when Japan became brutally aware of the fragility of its daily existence.” — Goodreads

Osaka, Japan

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

  • “Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters—strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis—survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.” — Goodreads

Kyoto, Japan 

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

  • “A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.” — Goodreads
  • “I enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden whilst staying in a Ryokan in the Giron district of Kyoto, Japan. It brought the past and present to life.” — Quartzy reader note

Tokyo, Japan

The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya

  • “In these 11 stories, the individuals who lift the curtains of their orderly homes and workplaces are confronted with the bizarre, the grotesque, the fantastic, the alien–and, through it, find a way to liberation.” — Goodreads

People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo—and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

  • “An incisive and compelling account of the case of Lucie Blackman. Lucie Blackman—tall, blonde, and 21 years old—stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave.” — Goodreads

Hong Kong, at large

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

  • “Hong Kong takes center stage in this sumptuous novel, set in the 1940s and ’50s. It’s a city teeming with people, sights, sounds, and smells, and it’s home to a group of foreign nationals who enjoy the good life among the local moneyed set, in a tight-knit social enclave distanced from the culture at large. ” — Goodreads
  • “Reading The Piano Teacher in Hong Kong was fantastic, even though it is not the greatest book.” — Quartz staff note

China, at large

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

  • “The story of three generations in 20th-century China that blends the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic sweep of eyewitness history.” — Goodreads

India, at large

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

  • “Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas – this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.” — Goodreads

Delhi, India

Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chauhan 

  • “In a sprawling bungalow on New Delhi’s posh Hailey Road, Justice Laxmi Narayan Thakur and his wife Mamta spend their days watching anxiously over their five beautiful (but troublesome) alphabetically named daughters. Spot-on funny and toe-curlingly sexy, Those Pricey Thakur Girls is rom-com specialist Anuja Chauhan writing at her sparkling best.” — Goodreads

Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World by Snigdha Poonam

  • “More than half of India is under the age of 25 and the country is set to have the youngest population in the world by 2021. But India’s millennials are nothing like their counterparts in the West.” — Goodreads

Havelock Island, Andaman Islands, India

Death in the Andamans by M. M. Kaye

  • “When a violent storm lashes the tiny Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, Copper Randal barely manages a safe return to Government House. She does get back in one piece with her hostess, Valerie Masson, Val’s fiance, and handsome naval officer Nick Tarrent, but one of the islanders is unaccounted for when the boats return to harbor. Cut off from the mainland and confined to the shadowy, haunted guest quarters, Copper and the other visitors conclude that one of their number is a murderer.” — Amazon

Bali, Indonesia

A Little Bit One O’clock: Living with a Balinese Family by William Ingram

  • “In this honest, heart-warming book, William Ingram shares a series of intimate moments that together sketch an illuminating portrait of a Balinese family.” — Goodreads

Cambodia, at large

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

  • “From a childhood survivor of the Cambodian genocide under the regime of Pol Pot, this is a riveting narrative of war crimes and desperate actions, the unnerving strength of a small girl and her family, and their triumph of spirit.” — Goodreads

Myanmar, at large

Burmese Days by George Orwell

  • “Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, this book describes corruption and imperial bigotry.” — Goodreads

Thailand, at large

Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne

  • “Osborne’s is a visceral experience of Bangkok, whether he’s wandering the canals that fill the old city; dining at the No Hands Restaurant, where his waitress feeds him like a baby; or launching his own notably unsuccessful career as a gigolo.” – Goodreads

Istanbul, Turkey 

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

  • “A stirring exploration of the nature of romantic attachment and of the mysterious allure of collecting, The Museum of Innocence also plumbs the depths of an Istanbul half Western and half traditional—its emergent modernity, its vast cultural history.” — Goodreads
  • This one is very special because you can combine the romance experience with the physical narrative in the Museum of Innocence, a house with all the belongings collected by the narrator while he tells a love history along with his life. Amazing experience!” — Quartzy reader note


South Africa, at large

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

  • “The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime New York Times bestseller about one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.” – Goodreads

Johannesburg, South Africa

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

  • “Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons… it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.” — Goodreads

West Africa, at large

God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembène

  • “In 1947-48 the workers on the Dakar-Niger railway staged a strike. In this vivid, timeless novel, Ousmane Sembène envinces the color, passion, and tragedy of those formative years in the history of West Africa.” — Goodreads

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

  • “With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.” — Goodreads
  • “A sprawling fantasy fiction rooted in West African mythology is a refreshing departure from the European fantasy universe” — Quartz staff note

Ghana, at large

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier.

  • “The book shines much-needed light on this group of small nations, largely unnoticed by the industrialized West, that are dropping further and further behind the majority of the world’s people, often falling into an absolute decline in living standards.” — Goodreads
  • “Maybe a too-serious read and not exactly for vacation… But I found it helpful.” — Quartz staff note

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, at large

The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

  • “People’s hero Patrice Lumumba had recently been assassinated, and Guevara was to put his theories of guerrilla warfare to use helping the oppressed people of the Congo throw off the yoke of colonial imperialism… The diaries afford the reader a very personal insight into the thoughts and emotions of Che Guevara, the 20th century’s great revolutionary martyr.” — Amazon

Morocco, at large

The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah

  • “Endlessly enthralling, The Caliph’s House charts a year in the life of one family who takes a tremendous gamble. As we follow Tahir on his travels throughout the kingdom, from Tangier to Marrakech to the Sahara, we discover a world of fierce contrasts that any true adventurer would be thrilled to call home.” — Goodreads

Zambia, at large

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

  • “A Zambian debut novel that follows three generations of three families, telling the story of a nation, and of the grand sweep of time… From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this novel sweeps over the years and the globe.” — Goodreads


Andalucia, Spain

Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving

  • “Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra is really two books in one. The first section chronicles Irvings 1829 visit to the crumbling Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain… The second half is a collection of romantic tales inspired by the Alhambra’s Moorish and Spanish past. They are charming tales clearly inspired by Miguel Cervantes. ” — Amazon

Barcelona, Spain

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

  • “The international literary sensation, about a boy’s quest through the secrets and shadows of postwar Barcelona for a mysterious author whose book has proved as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget. An uncannily absorbing historical mystery, a heart-piercing romance, and a moving homage to the mystical power of books, The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art.” — Goodreads

Dublin, Ireland

Ulysses by James Joyce

  • “Loosely based on the Odyssey, this landmark of modern literature follows ordinary Dubliners in 1904. Capturing a single day in the life of Dubliner Leopold Bloom, his friends Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus, his wife Molly, and a scintillating cast of supporting characters, Joyce pushes Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes.” — Goodreads
  • “I’ve only been able to understand Joyce while physically in Ireland.” — Quartz staff note

Dubliners by James Joyce

  • “This work of art reflects life in Ireland at the turn of the last century, and by rejecting euphemism, reveals to the Irish their unromantic realities. Each of the 15 stories offers glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners, and collectively they paint a portrait of a nation.” — Goodreads
  • “The city brought the book to life, while the book gave the city a whole new dimension.” — Quartz staff note

The Netherlands, at large

In a Dark Wood by Marcel Möring

  • “In a rich tapestry of styles, fantasy, and philosophical speculations, Marcel Möring leads us on a voyage through the dark heart of the twentieth century and through a vivid exploration of loss and guilt.” — Goodreads

Italy, at large

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

  • “The story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera.” – Goodreads
  • “It definitely gave me extra feels” — Quartz staff note

Venice, Italy

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

  • The City of Falling Angels opens on the evening of January 29, 1996, when a dramatic fire destroys the historic Fenice opera house… Arriving in Venice three days after the fire, Berendt becomes a kind of detective—inquiring into the nature of life in this remarkable museum-city—while gradually revealing the truth about the fire.” — Goodreads

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

  • “Two orphaned children are on the run, hiding among the crumbling canals and misty alleyways of the city of Venice.” — Goodreads
  • “More of a kids book, but Funke’s magical descriptions of Venice are delicious regardless.” — Quartz staff note

Cannes, France

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • “The tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver.” — Goodreads

Provence, France

Caesar’s Vast Ghost: Aspects of Provence by Lawrence Durrell

  • “The magical wedge of land in southern France known as Provence…is lovingly and evocatively portrayed.” — Goodreads

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

  • “In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs.” — Goodreads

Paris, France

Just Kids by Patti Smith

  • “The legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. ” — Goodreads
  • “Reading about another American’s experience abroad made me feel so much less homesick” — Quartz staff note

Adèle by Leïla Slimani

  • “Suspenseful, erotic, and electrically charged, Adèle is a captivating exploration of addiction, sexuality, and one woman’s quest to feel alive.” — Goodreads
  • “I always felt it really augmented my experience of the place itself.” — Quartzy reader note

A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

  • “Hemingway’s memories of his life as an unknown writer living in Paris in the twenties are deeply personal, warmly affectionate, and full of wit. ” — Goodreads
  • “It somehow travels really well.  Even though it is about his life in Paris, and that’s all you can smell and see and feel. Or so it seems.” — Quartzy reader note

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

  • The Dud Avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. ” — Goodreads

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani

  • “Leïla Slimani’s best-seller explores the dark relationship of a mother and her babysitter. The subjects Slimani takes on, including infanticide, are so unmentionable you feel you are tempting the fates by mere proximity.”  — The New Yorker
  • “I picked The Perfect Nanny because apparently, it was a sensation in France. It’s not really the kind of thing I typically read, but I was curious about what had struck a chord there. I have found the book difficult to put down.” — Quartz staff note

Greece, at large

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

  • “The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt.” — Goodreads
  • “Provided some historical context about overthrowing cities and what life in Athens may have been like at that time.” — Quartzy reader note

Circe by Madeline Miller

  • “Classics teacher Madeline Miller breathes a different, more complex life into the embattled goddess, telling her story from Circe’s own perspective. Readers watch Circe navigate a neglected childhood, bitter romances, years of isolation, and eventually a reckoning with her own power. It’s a tender story of heartbreak, betrayal, and love, featuring a familiar cast of characters from Greek mythology.” — Quartz
  • “Very fun to visit the Parthenon museum and see the statues of the Greek Gods and then read about those same people.” — Quartzy reader note

Corfu Island, Greece

Prospero’s Cell by Lawrence Durrell

  • “This charming idyll depicts the country life and cosmopolitan society of Corfu in the years immediately before the war . . . The matter of it is as sound as the story is delightful.” — Sunday Times

Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr. Norris/Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

  • “Isherwood magnificently captures 1931 Berlin: charming, with its avenues and cafés; marvelously grotesque, with its nightlife and dreamers; dangerous, with its vice and intrigue; powerful and seedy, with its mobs and millionaires.” — Goodreads

Norway, at large

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (note: also good for Denmark)

  • “It is an epic drama of adventure, courage, ruthlessness and passion by one of Scandinavia’s most acclaimed storytellers… Jensen conjures a wise, humorous, thrilling story of fathers and sons, of the women they love and leave behind, and of the sea’s murderous promise. This is a novel destined to take its place among the greatest seafaring literature.” – Goodreads

South America

Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado

  • “Lusty, satirical and full of intrigue, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is a vastly entertaining panorama of small town Brazilian life.” — Goodreads
  • “Jorge Amado is one of our treasures in Brazil. I’m glad you could feel and see Bahia by his special eyes.” — Quartzy reader note

Colombia, at large

Collected Stories by Gabriel García Márquez

  • “Combining mysticism, history, and humor, the stories in this collection span more than two decades, illuminating the development of Marquez’s prose and exhibiting the themes of family, poverty, and death that resound throughout his fiction.” — Amazon

Guatemala, at large

Bitter Fruit by Stephen Schlesinger

  • Bitter Fruit recounts in telling detail the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954.” — Google Books

Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala by Daniel Wilkinson

  • Silence on the Mountain is a virtuoso work of reporting and a masterfully plotted narrative tracing the history of Guatemala’s 36-year internal war, a conflict that claimed the lives of some 200,000 people, the vast majority of whom died (or were “disappeared”) at the hands of the U.S.-backed military government.” — Goodreads
  • “Both non-fiction to better understand how the US fucked up everything there.” — Quartz staff note

Lima, Peru

The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

  • “Ricardo Somocurcio is in love with a bad girl. He loves her as a teenager known as ‘Lily’ in Llama in 1950, when she arrives one summer out of the blue, claiming to be from Chile but vanishing the moment her claim is exposed as fiction…The Bad Girl, tries to differentiate between the strange bedfellows of good and bad, proving that either can turn out not what they appear to be.” — Goodreads

North America

Havana, Cuba

El Rey de la Habana by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez

  • “This is the story of a young teenager thrown into the streets of Havana in the 1990s. A novel based on real events, written crudely, without dressings or adornments, in the best tradition of dirty realism.” — Goodreads

I Was Never a First Lady by Wendy Guerra

  • “A novel whose three protagonists, Celia, Albis, and Nadia, belong to a line of characters that will forever be ingrained in readers’ memories; who, with their existential vicissitudes, will present Cuban life from the triumph of the Revolution to today.” — Penguin Random House

The United States, at large

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

  • “A brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those…whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories.” — Library Journal
  • “I think one of my favorite pairings was when I did a month-long Amtrack trip across the US.” — Quartz staff note

New Orleans, Louisiana

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

  • A Confederacy of Dunces is an American comic masterpiece. John Kennedy Toole’s hero, one Ignatius J. Reilly, is ‘huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter.’ His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans’ lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures.” — Chicago Sun-Times

California, at large

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

  • “This classic collection of journalism defined the state of America during the upheaval of the sixties revolution. The essays feature barricades and bombings, mass murders and kidnapped heiresses.” — Goodreads

Bay Area, California

There There by Tommy Orange

  • There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow.” — Goodreads

Savannah, Georgia

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

  • “A sublime and seductive reading experience. Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, this enormously engaging portrait of a most beguiling Southern city has become a modern classic.” — Goodreads

Hawaii, at large  

Hawaii by James A. Michener

  • “Pulitzer Prize–winning author James A. Michener brings Hawaii’s epic history vividly to life in a classic saga that has captivated readers since its initial publication in 1959… Based on exhaustive research and told in Michener’s immersive prose, Hawaii is the story of disparate peoples struggling to keep their identity, live in harmony, and, ultimately, join together.” — Goodreads

Bonus: American road-trip edition

On the Road by Jack Kerouac + Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck + Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon + Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

  • “When my barely-teenaged son Jon and I took off the summer to drive cross country and back… We read, sometimes aloud to each other, parts or all of [the above]. The reading was all the more enjoyable because we didn’t have a schedule or make it part of the mission. If we felt like it, we read. I remember being surprised that Kerouac did so much of his traveling on buses or in cars with friends; he didn’t do nearly as much hitchhiking as I had imagined. And I came away from Travels with Charley convinced that Steinbeck had totally made up some parts, particularly the one about the African-American hitchhiker he supposedly picked up. He probably felt he needed to live up to the subtitle: In Search of America.” — Quartzy reader note

Australia, at large

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

  • “Despite the fact that Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path.” — Goodreads

Vacations, in general

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

  • “For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their 35th wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school… But all does not go according to plan: Over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.” — Goodreads
  • “When I think of a story so clearly tied to its setting and so evocative is that specific place, Emma Straub’s The Vacationers will always occur to me first. Gorgeous prose.” — Quartzy reader note
  • “More of a mental state match-up than a physical location.” — Quartz staff note

Beaches, in general 

Dune by Frank Herbert

  • “Set in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary dynasties are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the Imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and heir of House Atreides) as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the ‘spice’ melange, the most important and valuable substance in the cosmos.” — Goodreads
  • “I read Dune once at the beach and it was terrifying.”— Quartz staff note