Flee the American Political News Cycle with 25 Great Escapist Novels


CNN got you down? Fox News just too much? I feel you, man. The American political news cycle is off-the-charts crazy right now, and it all makes me want to get under the covers and hide, or possibly run away. Preferably with something to read. If you feel similarly, here are some suggestions of books that will help you escape from the media while still maintaining your intellectual integrity. That is, they’re escapist in the good, absorbing way, not the yikes-this-is-garbage way. I’ll assume, by the way, that you’ve already got the obvious ones: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, etc. Yes, down the rabbit hole is a fine place to hide yourself right now, but even rabbit holes have dirt bottoms, and once you get there, you’ll need a new book. Here are a few to consider.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

Looking for somewhere to hide from all the increasingly stupid political rhetoric in the American news media? How about a nice, quiet 24-hour bookstore? Yes, so far so good, but what makes this novel truly escapist (and truly delightful) is the mystery that unfolds in the back of the stacks, filled with dusty old tomes, secret societies, and hidden passages. Good old books: guaranteed to distract you from all manner of YouTube clips.

Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan

A wickedly funny, voyeuristic satire about, well, crazy rich Asians. Particularly what happens when you go to meet your boyfriend’s family and friends in Singapore and find out that not only is he wealthier than God, but there are tons of women waiting to knock you off in order to get their chance at him. It’s like a modern Edith Wharton novel raised on reality television.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith

Ah, the good old days, when rich American dilettantes could just jaunt off to other countries and murder their friends and steal their identities. Well, I suppose they can still do that, but I think it’s less of a thing now. At any rate, with this novel, you can escape the current climate and find yourself in the Italian countryside, turning pages like a madwoman. (Don’t worry: there are sequels)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon

While WWII-era New York City might not be your first dream travel destination, this hefty novel about two young men rising to comic book fame is engrossing enough that you’ll learn to love it. After all, there’s nothing better than comic books to get yourself out of whatever bleak reality you find yourself in. Plus: their superhero? He’s called the Escapist. So it’s kind of perfect.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Ah, the simplicity of a marriage plot, where everything more or less works out (for the moral) in the end. Consider this entry the representative for all the Austen novels — if you read them all in a row, that should keep your mind off Trump for at least a couple of months.

The Martian, Andy Weir

Can’t get far enough away from Trump? Try Mars!

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell

Pretty much all of Mitchell’s novels are so immersive and entertaining that you can easily lose whole days inside them, but to my mind, this one might be the most “escapist” — elaborate, multi-genre, multi-reality caper that it is. Also likely to give you a bit of perspective — or at least have you looking around to see what perspectives you might be missing.

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

What I prefer to any of the presidential candidates: sexy times in the Scottish highlands of the 18th century.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith

If you really want to make sure you don’t have to look up from your novel anytime soon, you could always start in on this bestselling and well-loved series (16 volumes to date) about Mma Precious Ramotswe, finest (and only) female private detective in Botswana. Foreign lands + great characters + fun mysteries = a wholly delightful reading experience.

My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

Haven’t caught Ferrante Fever? Well, start licking your friends. This series is kind of like the Downton Abbey of literature — an utterly delicious, impossible to resist, highbrow soap that transports you to a time and place both beautiful and perilously in flux.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Terry McMillan

Stoke your fantasies of escaping to Jamaica, where you meet a very intriguing someone and then, you know, start some grooving. Not highbrow by any stretch, but loads of fun, and still probably more highbrow than Donald Trump.

Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Fans of the podcast already know all about Night Vale — the kind of place you pretty much only would want to escape to in fiction (but you really want to escape to in fiction, because it’s the best kind of creepy/hilarious). The novel is just as good: surreal, strange, and somehow touching, and well worth the read even for a Night Vale newcomer.

The Princess Bride, William Goldman

Since laughter really is the greatest escape.

Sacred Games, Vikram Chandra

This massive thriller of Sikh cops and Hindu gangsters is in some ways a mirror of Mumbai, where it’s set: it’s fast, colorful, filled with love and deals and violence, and spins out in a thousand directions, but also comes back to a deep humanity. There’s almost too much to handle in here — but you’ll find yourself not able to put it down until your arms actually give out from the weight of the book.

The Once and Future King, T.H. White

Things were so much simpler when King Arthur ran the joint, you know?

Life of Pi, Yann Martel

If only, I often think to myself these days, I could just be alone on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Maybe with a couple of animals. Definitely not with any politicians. Yes, that would be good.

The Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee

This buzzy and brilliant new novel will whisk you away to the 19th-century Parisian opera for an extravagant picaresque, the story of one woman’s rise from obscurity to fame. But obscurity, such as it is, has a way of following you…

The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan

I’ve always felt that this novel (and its sequels) didn’t get enough attention. Smart, funny, sexy, and elegantly written werewolf novels? That’s better than anything going on in the news right now. Except, wait, what if Bernie Sanders were a werewolf? Now that’d be a candidate I could get behind.

Fingersmith, Sarah Waters

Well, really, you can just go on a Sarah Waters bender and call it a day (or a year), but this novel is probably her best: a densely plotted, baroque, atmospheric Dickensian thriller — with lesbians. Gorgeous writing, intense storytelling, and delicious everything.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Another novel guaranteed to take you far, far away from our current planet, and in this case, leave you giggling there for hours on end.

Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann

A classic escapist novel about escapism of a whole other kind.

Ways to Disappear, Idra Novey

This enchanting literary mystery takes its heroine, a translator (like Novey), from Pittsburgh to Rio, where she must find the Brazilian author who has spontaneously disappeared, leaving only a strange manuscript behind.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle

What better way to escape than into the elegantly ticking brain of Sherlock Holmes? If only all problems could be solved in such a satisfying manner.

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

Escape to a literal castle in the English countryside, but more importantly, escape into this refreshingly simple, enchanting story of family and first love. For a few hours at least, you’ll believe that the world, despite whatever bumps and bruises it accrues, is essentially going to be all right. Hold on to that feeling; you’ll need it.

Tintin in Tibet (etc.), Hergé

Last resort: buy yourself the entire Tintin series and travel around the world with the intrepid eponymous boy reporter, who always gets himself out of any kind of jam, and who always triumphs over the bad guys in the end. Even better: those bad guys? They’re generally fairly recognizable by their facial hair. What a relief.