Emily Henry, author of Booklovers, on the allure of travel

Emily Henry, author of Booklovers, on the allure of travel

Over the past three years, novelist Emily Henry has cemented a solid position on the summer bestseller lists with a string of travel-themed rom-coms, starting with 2020’s Beach Read and following last summer’s People We Meet on Vacation” and this year’s “Book Lovers”. All three novels currently share a spot on The Times’ combined print and e-book fiction list.

In her books, a young woman—a writer or close to a writer—at a crisis point in her life, sets off into new territory where (without spoilers) she finds her true calling—and her true love.

In “Beach Reading,” dueling novelists occupy neighboring lake houses in Michigan, arguing until, of course, they stop. In People We Meet on Vacation, travel writer Poppy Wright spends part of each summer traveling with her best friend from college, Alex Nielsen, who, dear reader, you know from the start is even Mr. Rule while the two hide from the inevitable. In Booklovers, it’s hard-nosed literary agent Nora Stevens who travels to the small town of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, 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 now she, her husband and their dog live there near her parents. She fondly remembers their family trips, even if they sometimes fought “like a many-headed beast,” she said.

“We’re all still trying to travel semi-regularly together, which obviously can be total chaos, but I’m so nostalgic about 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 travel related.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

A book is already designed to be a kind of vacation—even if it’s not an escapist book, even if it’s a very heavy literary novel, that journey is still packaged for you in a very specific way. And I think with travel-focused books, you only increase that even more.

There’s this sense of possibility when you’re traveling that you don’t necessarily have in your normal life because you’re going to be around new people and new things and you don’t know what might happen and who you might meet. Everything just feels exciting. Story-wise, it lends itself to this big 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 a reader it lends itself to that too because we already try to go to new places and meet new people while reading. We long for something, some new experience that we want to bring into ourselves.

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 something small like that. Plus, you just see your normal life through 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 love so much about travel, it’s also that you can become so complacent or unappreciative of your life, your real life, that there’s really nothing like that feeling of coming home.

I haven’t done much international travel yet, but I grew up in a traveling family, so I’ve seen most of the United States. It was quite common to take a 14 hour trip to Florida. We would leave in the middle of the night to avoid paying for that extra night and we would sleep in the back of the minivan and wake up and be there.

Now I find that every few months I feel this anxiety and desire to just be somewhere different, see new things and eat food that is not available to me. It’s this rhythm that my family created for me. You have new experiences to carry you through the daily grind of real life.

A lot of it was really just research, and there are Facebook groups for that sort of thing, but I haven’t really used them. I’m a big fan of Airbnb, as is much of my generation. It has simply changed the game for travel, especially for extended travel. But I also think that being raised by parents who are really good at that sort of thing helps. They will take resort tours to get deeply discounted tickets to Disney World. That really went into a lot of the writing of Poppy’s approach to travel.

Yes, I had a few. I don’t think of myself as the cleanest person, but now I check the reviews very carefully about how clean the place is. I’ve definitely had some that are pretty ugly. There is always artful photography. There was one that listed an extra bedroom and we got there and found out it was in an unfinished basement and it also had like a hole in the wall to this other kind of storage room that looked like a peephole. This was disturbing.

My favorite trip is to fly to San Francisco and drive up through Muir Woods and Muir Beach and then see the wine country. And then I have family in Oregon. I love this drive. I love that you can see the ocean, the bay, the mountains, the wine country, the redwoods, all within just that span of a few hours.

Seeing a place as a visitor is so 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 places I write 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 somewhere more relaxing I’d probably indulge in one place too, but I don’t see myself writing a bunch of books about Cincinnati. I’m sure I’ll have a straight book about Cincinnati, but it’s not innately summery.

Oh my gosh. Not summer.


Amy Wirshap is the Travel Editor.

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