Sartre was wrong. Hell isn’t other people. Hell is tourists — specifically, other tourists. When traveling, there’s nothing more dispiriting — not exchange rates or dengue season — than coming across a compatriot. Is it because we travel not so much to see how other people live, but to imagine the other lives we might have led? (Me, I’m small and rather rumpled. Naturally, I imagine myself tall and very impressive looking and, inexplicably, tending to an elaborate garden.) And nothing ruins the view like a fellow tourist, with her bellowing voice and billowing map, a reminder of my ineluctable Americanness.
Let’s stay put this summer. Let’s live other lives from the comfort of our couches. Crank the AC and allow these five books to take you to other worlds. But be warned: These are dangerous places, the underbellies of our great cities. You’ll meet unforgettable characters: a future first lady, a one-booted hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail, a young Angela Davis. You’ll encounter beauty, bravery, chilling strangeness — and you won’t even have to take off your Slanket.