Living and working in the sultry American South, where all my novels are set, this time of year I’m especially drawn to author Kate Morton’s atmosphere-drenched books, which hearken me back to the gothic novels of Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt. I especially liked Morton’s “The Lake House,” which features an abandoned, crumbling mansion in the Cornwall countryside and the long unsolved disappearance of the beloved toddler son of an aristocratic family during a Midsummer’s Eve party in 1933. Morton’s lush descriptions of the country house, with its chattering stream, sunken garden and, yes, joy-of-joys — a secret tunnel — plus the twisty dual timeline plot kept me guessing — and longing for a drift on that cool, mist-shrouded lake.
Pierce Brown, author of the “Red Rising” series
“Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Forget about being transported to far-off lands and fall into the topsy-turvy midnight world that inspired “The Night Circus” and legions of young dreamers. When a summer storm brings an arcane circus to a Midwestern town, two lads are torn from their humdrum ennui into a fantastical realm of bearded ladies, malevolent carnies and the infamous Illustrated Man. Ray Bradbury might not take you to Mars (this time), but he’ll drag you smiling and screaming back to the wonders and terrors of childhood.
Chanel Cleeton, whose books include “Next Year in Havana”
I recently read Anthony DePalma’s nonfiction book “The Cubans,” and I was instantly transported to Guanabacoa, where DePalma vividly depicts the lives of several families in modern Cuba. DePalma’s writing is evocative and detailed, and the reader feels as though they are walking alongside the people whose aspirations and dreams he so poignantly highlights. The country comes alive with each sentence, and the end result is an homage to Cuba and the Cuban people that is both heartbreaking and hopeful.
Esi Edugyan, whose books include “Washington Black”
Penelope Fitzgerald’s masterpiece “The Blue Flower” is one of the most offhandedly charming novels I’ve ever read. It follows the 18th-century German poet Novalis in his quest to marry a 12-year-old girl called Sophie von Kuhn — but this description hardly gets at the strange, elliptical nature of Fitzgerald’s storytelling. A funny, transporting, deeply moving novel.
Diana Gabaldon, author of the “Outlander” series
If I had to pick just one, I think it would be “Shogun,” by James Clavell. That one gripped me for a solid three days of reading and completely took me from my own reality into his.
Linda Holmes, author of “Evvie Drake Starts Over”
One of the many reasons I love Andy Weir’s “The Martian” is that it makes Mars, and a very few small enclosed spaces on Mars, so available to the imagination. It’s easy for space to feel vast and filled with possibility; the book makes living on Mars a matter of plastic and tape, buckets and rows of growing plants. I’m always surprised when I remind myself that it’s a description of living on another planet entirely.
“The Paying Guests,” by Sarah Waters. Post-World War I London. An impossible, life-altering love affair. A murder. Twists aplenty. And gorgeous writing to boot.
I tend to work to avoid the difficulties of life. So books are my tonic from too much work and too much life. I can’t think of a lovelier book than Italo Calvino’s beautiful novel “The Baron in the Trees” to carry me away to the Ligurian Riviera. I admire Cosimo, the young baron, who decides to leave all and find an alternate life in the trees. In such times, his choices seem perfectly sensible.
Read and reread, that’s my motto for this surreal zone we’re inhabiting. When I’m longing to pack my bag and go, I turn to the incomparable Patrick Leigh Fermor — everything he wrote, but especially “Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese,” a book that once caused me to travel to that spare and essential region. Another transporter: intrepid Freya Stark, lover of the classical world and early explorer of the Middle East. I especially love “The Valleys of the Assassins” and “Alexander’s Path.”
Ruth Reichl, whose books include “Save Me the Plums”
I don’t just want to be in another place — I want to be in another time as well. Nobody has ever created a better magic carpet than Dorothy Dunnett. “The Lymond Chronicles” has all you need to make this modern madness disappear: complex characters (you never know what they will do), distant places (she covers the entire medieval globe), swashbuckling adventures — and a grasp of history that is constantly enlightening. Happily, once I’ve reread these six volumes, “The House of Niccolò” awaits.
Salman Rushdie, author, most recently, of “Quichotte”
Fourteen years ago, Bill Buford published the brilliant “Heat,” an account of his adventures and misadventures, from Greenwich Village to Tuscany, in his quest to become an Italian chef. Now he has surpassed that masterpiece with “Dirt,” in which he moves to Lyon, the capital of French cuisine, and takes us on an even richer journey, by turns hilarious, obsessional, informative and borderline deranged, as he seeks to earn his toque. Deeply enjoyable.
When it comes to escapism, you don’t always have to go to another world — sometimes space is far enough. I’ve long been a fan of Becky Chambers’s “Wayfarers” series, set in a futuristic expanse, a rich tapestry of planets and people. The second book especially, “A Closed and Common Orbit,” is the perfect mix of incredible characters and interstellar adventure.
Paul Theroux, whose books include “On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey”
In my estimation, two of the greatest books to transport a reader in space and time are a novel and a memoir. The novel, “A House for Mr. Biswas,” by V.S. Naipaul — a fractious family, a complex culture, a tiny island, before and after World War I; brilliant, funny, multilayered. And the other, “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” by Carlo Levi, a Jewish Florentine who was banished and isolated to the far south of Italy by Mussolini; a compassionate anthropology, humane and otherworldly.
Angela Haupt is a D.C.-based freelance writer and full-time health editor.