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Literary Getaways: Book Your Travel. Literally.

Jun 16, 2011 (Talk of the Nation)

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If a fancy vacation won't fit into the summer budget this year, a good book can take you on a journey instead.

Bharati Mukherjee's new book, Miss New India, takes the reader on a trip to South Asia. But her heroine Anjali's India isn't characterized by duty and the Hindu tradition. She defies her parents' wishes, flees her future in an arranged marriage and sets off for the exciting, high-tech city of Bangalore.

"You have slums, still," Mukherjee tells NPR's Andrea Seabrook, "and remnants of the orderly smallness of British cantonment towns from the British Raj days." But there are also the enormous industrial parks and IT campuses, with their glass and steel towers and 21st century perks.

Laura Miller, senior writer and books critic for Salon.com, has two criteria for escapist reading. "I want it to be set some place I don't ordinarily frequent ... either out of the United States, or in a part of the United States I don't know so well," she says. Secondly, for Miller, "a strong storyline" is essential, because of how it can create a powerful sense of place. "It kind of builds a world around as it goes along."

Mukherjee's book does just that. Miller also offers the follow recommendations for books to satisfy your summer wanderlust:

The Magician King, by Lev Grossman

The sequel to The Magician, which Miller calls a combination "a blend of Harry Potter and Donna Tartt's The Secret History," follows the formula of The Lord of the Rings meets Infinite Jest. It's about a group of people who travel from our world to a magical land they've been yearning to visit. But when they get there, it's not as great as they expected and they have to entertain themselves.

State Of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

Set in the Brazilian Amazon, "it's the story of a scientist, a woman pharmacology researcher who lives in Minnesota, who has to go up the Amazon to find a former mentor of hers who is with this remote tribe researching this possible revolutionary new fertility drug." Miller says she loves it because the female characters are so powerfully written.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, by Sara Gran

"My summer indulgence is: I like detective stories," says Miller, and this is a surreal, metaphysical one. "Claire DeWitt is this surly and difficult detective who uses dreams and divination tools" to solve mysteries. She goes to New Orleans, "and it's an evocative, and very tragic portrait of what happened to that city."

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