Over the past three years, novelist Emily Henry has established a strong beach presence on the summer bestseller lists with a series of travel-related commercials, starting with Beach Read in 2020 and followed by People We Meet on of last summer. Holidays” and “Book Lovers” this year. All three novels currently share space on The Times’ combined print and e-book list.
In her books, a young woman – a writer or writer-next-door – at a crisis point in her life, turns on the lights for a new territory, where (not to say a spoiler) she finds her true calling – and her true love.
In “Beach Read,” dueling novelists invade neighboring houses on a Michigan lake, fighting until, of course, they stop. In People We Meet on Vacation, travel writer Poppy Wright spends part of each summer taking a road trip with her best friend from college, Alex Nilsen, who, dear reader, you know from the get-go. is mr. as both hide from the inevitable. In Book Lovers, it’s struggling literary agent Nora Stephens who travels to the small North Carolina town of Sunshine Falls, only to meet her nemesis from the Manhattan book scene, editor Charlie Lastra.
Another theme in her books is the attraction of family. Ms Henry, 31, grew up in Cincinnati with two older brothers and she, her husband and their dog now live there, near her parents. She fondly remembers their family trips, even if they sometimes ended up fighting “like a many-headed beast,” she said.
“We all still try to do semi-regular trips together, which obviously can be total chaos, but I have so much nostalgia for it,” said Ms Henry, who is working on next summer’s novel . “I can’t talk about it yet,” she said of the project. “But I can tell it’s about travel.”
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What is it about travel that makes a good novel?
A book is already built to be a kind of vacation—even if it’s not an escapist book, even if it’s a very heavy literary novel, it’s still this journey that’s packaged for you in a very specific way. And I think with travel-focused books you’re just increasing it even more.
On a trip there’s this sense of possibility that you don’t necessarily have in your normal life, because you’re going to be around new people and all new things, and you don’t know what might happen and who you might meet. Everything just feels exciting. From a storytelling perspective, it lends itself to this huge transformation because the characters are already on this kind of uneven ground. Travel works the same way it works for us in real life: to just shake things up.
I think as readers, this lends itself to that too, because we’re already trying to go to new places and meet new people when we read. We want something, a new experience that we want to bring to ourselves.
The irony, especially with a title like People We Meet on Vacation, is that the most significant people your characters meet are themselves. Do you “meet” yourself when you are traveling?
I think there is something, yes, transformative and you get to know yourself more deeply in a new environment.
And it’s the things you don’t know about yourself, like the surprises, the risks you take, that you wouldn’t expect, or the new foods you try, that you didn’t think you’d like, or any little thing. as it. It’s also seeing your regular life with new eyes.
Because I think there’s places you go where you’re like, oh, I can imagine my life here, and there’s other places you go where you realize you’re just excited to go home. That’s one of the things I really like about traveling, too, is that you can become so complacent or unappreciative of your life, your real life, there’s nothing like that feeling of being back home.
Has traveling always been a part of your life?
I haven’t done much international travel yet, but I grew up in a family that took road trips, so I’ve seen most of the United States. It was very common to make a 14-hour road trip to Florida. We would leave in the middle of the night so we wouldn’t have to pay for that extra night and sleep in the back of the minivan and wake up and be there.
Now I find that every few months I feel this restlessness and desire to be somewhere different and see new things and eat food that is not available to me. This is the pace my family has set for me. You have new experiences to carry you through everyday life.
Poppy, over at People We Meet, has some pretty good tips for budget travel, like getting a car through a Facebook group. Are those things you did?
A lot of it was just research, and there are Facebook groups for that sort of thing, but I haven’t used them. I’m a big fan of Airbnb, like most of my generation. It’s just been such a game changer for travel, especially long trips. But I also think being raised by parents who were really good at that kind of thing helps. They would tour the resorts to get deeply discounted Disney World tickets. That really went into a big part of writing Poppy’s approach to travel.
There are also some Airbnb disasters in your fiction. Have you had any?
Yes, I’ve had a few. I don’t think of myself as the cleanest person, but now I’m very careful to check reviews about how clean the place is. I’ve definitely had some that are kind of gross. There are always artistic pictures. There was one that listed an extra bedroom and we got there and realized it was in an unfinished basement, and there was also like a hole in the wall in this other kind of storage room that looked like a hole. This was disturbing.
Is there a place you keep coming back to?
My favorite trip is to fly into San Francisco and drive to Muir Woods and Muir Beach and then see the wine country. And then I have family in Oregon. I love that car. I love that you can see the ocean, the bay, the mountains, the wine country, the redwoods, all within that few hours.
Unlike writer Elin Hilderbrand, who bases her summer books on Nantucket, your characters move around.
Seeing a place as a visitor is very different from being a local, and I think that’s why Elin Hilderbrand’s books are so good, because she really knows Nantucket and puts you right there. I only know the countries I’m writing about as a guest and it’s a different experience. It’s a truly magical experience, but it’s not the same things a local would choose for their city.
I think if I lived in a more vacation spot I’d probably commit to one too, but I can’t see writing a bunch of books about Cincinnati. I’m sure I’ll have a live book in Cincinnati, but this isn’t naturally summery.
If I were to visit Cincinnati, when should I go? Not in the summer?
Oh my God. Not wine.
Amy Virshup is the editor of the Travel section.
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