Call me old-fashioned, but I cannot travel without bringing a book along. Sometimes this book is literally old—I brought a vintage edition of The Grapes of Wrath with me on a flight earlier this year—and sometimes it's simply familiar.
When I fly to Minnesota in the summer, for instance, I gingerly pack a beloved copy of The Great Gatsby in my bag. I've read it a dozen times, but there's something about imagining those Midwesterners partying in a West Egg mansion that's uniquely satisfying when boats are beating against the current just out of view.
Books have always created separate worlds, and that escape can be even more enticing when we step away from our own. A good book can transport you from a long flight or enhance the setting of your temporary surroundings. I knew the team at Girls at Library would understand, and that's why I asked them to share the titles they like to take along while traveling, too.
In case you haven't heard of Girls at Library, it's a community that launched in 2015 for female bibliophiles to discuss their reading habits: what they're into, who they're following, and how their love of books has impacted their lives. As their mission touts, "The books one reads both shape the mind and reflect the soul," and there's no reason that shouldn't happen on the road.
Below, co-founder and editor in chief Payton Turner, co-founder and creative director Eliza Wexelman, and assistant editor Justine Goode clue us into the titles they select whenever a long flight is in their future, and why these stories feel particularly good in transit.
Payton Turner: Co-Founder and Editor in Chief
"I usually pick my in-flight books based on place: Whether it be a deep dive into the location I'm en route to or the particular position of my current inner life," Payton says. "If I'm traveling to escape, I'll want a book that follows that feeling and desire. Typically, I travel to work and learn, so those book choices tend to revolve around history, creative process, and human experience."
"Half of my family lives in England. Whenever I visit them, I'm likely to re-read Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh or Excellent Women by Barbara Pym," Payton continues. "I do so because I am a chronic re-reader (you yourself are different from the last time you picked up the book, so why wouldn't the book change as well?) and because there's such humor, subtlety, and important social commentary in both books that end up serving as a refresher course on aspects of the culture I'm about to immerse myself in."
"More often than not, my longer travels revolve around my work. My paints, palette, and various utensils take up much of the space in my carry-on, and I spend weeks thinking about the projects I want to work on while I'm away from my usual routine," she says.
"To help inspire the start of creation, I'll bring a book like The Rarest Blue to read," Payton continues. "History and materials are two major things that I think about constantly in my own visual work, and The Rarest Blue is a fascinating look at a very specific section of history through the lens of a hue."
"Furthermore, to help soothe and streamline the myriad difficulties unearthed during the act of creation, Wabi Sabi is my go-to guide," she adds. "It's a must-read to better understand the indomitable strength of simplicity and the unending beauty of incompleteness."
"Short domestic flights are how I play catch-up with my reading list. I'll pick a new release or an older book that I missed," Payton says. "When I go to New Orleans this December, I'll probably grab The Pisces by Melissa Broder and The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf. A book of poetry is never a bad choice, either. It's a transportive genre."
Eliza Wexelman: Co-Founder and Creative Director
"I would say I read the best on planes, more so than anywhere else," Eliza says. "Your mind is free to go anywhere."
"I tend to read books centered around where I am heading," she explains. "I recall reading Blood, Bones, and Butter while flying to New York after first visiting California, just before I moved to L.A. This may sound like the opposite would be true, but it's exciting to head home with a new viewpoint of what you already know about a place."
"I visited Israel for the first time recently. It's a place I would love to see again—a place vibrant yet filled with political tension," she says.
"As with first trips to a new land, memoirs have a powerful way of introducing you to new ways of life. I spent the flight there blowing through the forthcoming memoir from author Leah Dieterich, The Vanishing Twins (to be released with Soft Skull Press this September)," she continues. "It's a mesmerizing story that merges fluidity and structure, your mind floats through waiting for more. It is reminiscent of Maggie Nelson, Leslie Jamison, and Sarah Manguso."
"It's a book that you will keep following along to see Leah's next move, and it'll stop you from clicking on the latest Judd Apatow film," Eliza adds. "Though, actually, don't be surprised if you have time to finish both."
"A flight I really love to take is from Los Angeles home to visit family in St. Louis. Though it's a short four hours each way, it's consistently enough time to finish (or almost finish) an entire book," she continues. "I vividly recall getting carried away reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell on the flight home last summer, so much so that I bought his follow-up book Slade House to read on the flight back to Los Angeles. There really is no reason for this other than just reading exciting stories to move your mind while you're stuck in seat 22D."
"Reading something like Miranda July's No One Belongs Here More Than You is a great international flight read," Eliza adds.
"Choosing shorter books for longer flights allows you to read more, feel more accomplished, and really settle into a feeling," she says. "By the time you're finished with the 205 pages, you're set up to feel familiar with the unfamiliar and open to the myriad of possibly uncomfortable and awkward situations that may come your way. It's perfect for a traveler's first time out of the country."
Justine Goode: Assistant Editor
"I love reading because it makes everyday life infinitely more interesting. And I love reading while traveling because each experience enhances the other," Justine says. "My favorite places to travel are Paris or Lisbon: Paris because I lived there for almost a year and Lisbon because of its beauty, its beaches, its castles, and its abundance of pasteis de nata."
"This exquisite book is short enough to start and finish during a single flight (which I did). Nelson's fragmented prose is raw, gripping, and deserves your full attention—so it's best to read above 30,000 feet, when iPhones, laptops, and other distracting gadgets are all but rendered useless," Justine notes.
"Is it cheating to include an audiobook?" Justine asks. "I'll take the risk because this one is so charming: Fisher narrates her memoir while her daughter, Billie Lourd, reads entries from 19-year-old Fisher's diary, which she kept while filming Star Wars (expect many juicy details about Harrison Ford)."
"This is a modern-day epic," Justine continues. "Even the paperback is hefty, which means this stunning novel will probably last you the entirety of your trip. I recommend it before a trip to London."
"This is one of those books that will never fail to make you laugh out loud, even if you already know all of the punchlines," Justine says. "And Sedaris's hilarious fish-out-of-water stories in France and Japan will likely be relatable to most travelers."
"I prefer reading a short story or essay collections on vacation, as they're easier to put down for a bit and then jump back into later," Justine explains. "Babitz's wry and effervescent essays about life in Southern California will make you feel like a glamorous jet-setter by association—and the book is conveniently slim."