Whether or not we want to admit it - or even realize it - most of us indulge in certain habits that give our brains a break from what troubles us or stresses us out.
On the side of positive self-care, we have meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and warm baths. On the flip side, we self-medicate with alcohol, food, and so on. Whatever our vice of choice, its purpose is often the same: to provide an escape from everyday life.
The word “escapism” has a negative connotation, implying we are ignoring our responsibilities and avoiding reality. So it is with “escapist” fiction, which is often considered sub-par to its lofty cousin, “literary” fiction. Escapist fiction allows us to forget about real-world problems while we get to experience new worlds and live vicariously through the author’s imagination.
Also referred to as “genre fiction,” romance, science-fiction, fantasy, and mystery provide needed relief from the daily grind and can even provide a reprieve, albeit temporary, from major life circumstances. I can’t tell you the number of times I lost myself in books to hide from what was happening in real life. This didn’t mean I was shirking my responsibility to be a functional human being; instead, I was providing my brain with a mini vacation. So when those highbrow literary critics try to make you feel ashamed for reading the latest bodice ripper or mass-produced thriller, don’t let them get to you. Escapist fiction is fun to read and gives us a relatively harmless way to take a time-out.
Even better is when you can bring escapist fiction on an actual escape: summer vacation. If you’re headed to the seaside, mountains, or your couch for a staycation, a chunky stack of books (or fully loaded Kindle) will do wonders to reset your weary mind. Your best summer reads can be absorbing, engaging, and easy to read while still containing plot and substance. Or, your best reads can be pure fluff, and that’s perfectly fine. And, if toting Tolstoy to the beach is more your cup of tequila, well, you do you. My final point is that “escapism” is not a dirty word, and there is much to be gained from reading something easy and entertaining.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Unraveling the world is a terrifying phenomenon dubbed “False Memory Syndrome” in which its victims are driven mad with memories of a life they never lived. And it’s up to one New York cop and one neuroscientist to confront the truth and save humanity.
The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
Maddie and Theo hate each other. But they share a best friend, Alexa, and, with Alexa’s wedding approaching, the two are thrown together with shared bridal party responsibilities. Tension builds, but so does attraction, and soon they find themselves sneaking off together.
Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand
Four siblings look forward to their yearly summers at their grandmother’s historic Nantucket home, but, this year, nothing is the same. Their family is not immune to the tumultuous events happening in 1969 America, from the Vietnam War to the Moon Landing.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Olive is used to being the unlucky twin, and things are no different on her sister Ami’s wedding day: Olive is stuck with best man (and nemesis) Ethan Thomas. Then, the entire wedding party gets food poisoning, except Olive and Ethan, leaving a free honeymoon up for grabs. The two agree to a temporary truce and set off to Maui as fake newlyweds.
The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
On a small island off the coast of Kenya, young Ayaana and her mother live in solitude until a wizened sailor, Muhidin, enters their lives. At first, Ayaana is thrilled to have a father, but as she matures, threats against her begin to mount. When a contingent of emissaries from China invites her abroad, she embarks on a ship’s journey to the far East, encountering adventure, passion, and high stakes.
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
At the northeastern edge of Russia, two young sisters go missing. Throughout the next year, the unresolved disappearance reverberates throughout the community. The novel portrays a rich cast of characters, all connected by the crime, against the backdrop of astonishing beauty, from dense forest, open tundra, soaring volcanoes, and glassy seas.
Chances Are by Richard Russo
Three men, friends of over 40 years, convene on Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend where the past confronts the present in this suspenseful saga shot through with Pulitzer Prize-winner Russo’s trademark comedy.
It’s not too late to sign up for Adult Summer Reading at your library for the chance to win weekly prizes. Visit librarypoint.org/summer to register, log your books, and complete missions to earn points.
Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.