Have book, will travel. (Photo: Thinkstock)
As the owner of a travel bookstore, I am often asked what books to take on a road trip. Readers want something new and offbeat. Besides being a great read, the books should encompass what inspires an American road trip: love, adventure, family, the need for exploration, and most important, a sense of place. These 10 books have one or all of these elements so throw your choice in the back seat, pack your bags, and hit the road.
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
Dynamic duo Iris and Eva, in search of a more exciting life, travel through 1940s America from Ohio to dazzling Hollywood. A top book for 2014, Lucky Us spins magic and theater while moving through the dangers of family life. A gossip-column scandal, a glamorous make-up man, a cross-country road trip, a thief, and an accused spy are just a few of the twists and turns that surprise and delight in this kaleidoscopic novel.
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Sixties put Berkeley on the map but Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue portrays the essence of the Seventies with blaxploitation film fanatics, vinyl records, and a cast of characters that epitomize the spirit of the East Bay. Luckily for fans of the novel, not much has changed. Take a “trip” to the eclectic side of the Bay and discover the place that gave birth to Amoeba Records, California cuisine, and Your Black Muslim Bakery.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich’s masterful coming of age novel set on a North Dakota reservation is an intense account of the struggles Native Americans face as a sovereign nation. The father-and-son story features one of the most memorable teenage characters in literature. The reader is immediately put into that environment and is desperate to help — even though the child can only help himself.
The Peripheral by William Gibson
Gibson’s cyberpunk doesn’t usually inspire road travel as much as the need for a private airplane, as he bounces around the globe from Brussels to Tokyo to Vancouver to whatever hotspot catches his fancy. But he conjures perfectly the zeitgeist of modern travel, namely — the world is a gigantic exciting place, how can one possibly see it all? This thriller of time travel and corruption will make you want to bum around backroads Virginia in a pickup truck, while simultaneously making you wish you were in London wearing the perfect black Prada suit.
Three Kinds of Motion: Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, and the Making of the American Highway by Riley Hanick
Essayist Hanick weaves the effects of Kerouac, the iconic On the Road author, and Pollock, the Abstract Expressionist paint splatterer, on his small Iowa town when their two exhibits coincide at the local museum. Then when flood waters rise, he expertly juxtaposes those stories with President Eisenhower’s creation of the national highway system. A feat of writing that perfectly captures that moment in the Fifties when road trips became reality for the common man.
Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Cari Lynn & Kellie Martin
New Orleans is the city that lures travelers with its sensuous food and rich history. Madam, a novel based on the life of notorious brothel proprietor Josie Arlington, brings turn of the century New Orleans to life. Storyville, the red light district created from an attempt to squash such devious behavior, becomes Arlington’s domain. Filled with jazz, voodoo, champagne, well-researched historical characters, and of course sex, this book will tempt readers to head to the Crescent City to rediscover its past.
The Do Nothing by Brannon Perkison
Nothing says “road trip” like an escape from the law. In this award-winning debut novel, John Sharpe has possibly killed his father and has to go on the lam. Filled with adventure, memorable characters, and a sheriff who keeps showing up at the wrong time, this journey makes rural East Texas leap off the page. Sharpe dodges mysterious women and his own past on the way to the exciting conclusion.
(Grand Central Publishing)
The Autumn Balloon by Kenny Porpora
Long Island’s wealthy have inspired many notable novels — The Great Gatsby, to name one — but what about the regular families who live there? The Autumn Balloon is a memoir about a family filled with addiction and a son’s rise above the despair. Every autumn, Kenny Porpora would take part in his mother’s ritual of scribbling the names of family members lost to addiction on balloons and releasing them into the air. An addict herself, she moves the family from Long Island to Arizona in an attempt to start fresh. The author manages to extricate himself from the madness and escape to the Ivy League.
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash
The subtle beauty of Appalachia is derived not just from its landscape but from the spirit of its people. Rash has spent his career painting these stories through poetry and language while bringing his beloved home of Western North Carolina to life. Readers are swept away into the winding roads and misty mountains with seemingly simple characters whose journeys reveal heart-wrenching depth. It’s impossible not to be drawn to this area when reading Rash’s prose. A drive from Asheville to Highlands is the perfect accompaniment to this book.
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Carsick by John Waters
The icon of offbeat indie cinema hitchhikes from his house in Baltimore to his house in San Francisco. So uncertain is he of the outcome that he writes the trip three times, guessing the best and worst that could happen, followed by the actual trip itself. Always amusing and often hilarious, Carsick is the perfect audiobook for that long drive. Mr. Waters reads it himself.
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