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As spring slowly settles in throughout the Northern Hemisphere our minds have been drifting to the world outside our office walls — in particular to the wide open roads calling our names. Though humans have, for the most part, long been a domesticated species, nomadic urges course through our blood as the weather warms. And being half American (our better half is French) we’ve got a long writerly tradition of road trips that is frankly hard to ignore. So let’s take a brief tour of some of that literary lineage that is sure to get you yearning to take to the highways.
On the Road
Jack Kerouac, 1957
Don’t let the predictable Walter Salles and Kristen Stewart Hollywood adaptation fool you, this is perhaps the most well known road trip book for good reason. Jack Kerouac paints a vivid picture of the United States as viewed through a windshield — one that continues to inspire generations to go soul searching behind the wheel.
The Air Conditioned Nightmare
Henry Miller, 1945
The original American road trip book from the original American provocateur. Henry Miller, just back from 10 years in Europe, buys a car, convinces his pal, Abe Rattner, to join him and sets out to see what his native country is really all about. Beginning in New York City and making their way west, Miller’s observations are incisive, caustic and brutally honest. But amongst all of Miller’s cutting opinions, he discovers awe-inspiring beauty and individuality that renews his hope in the country that created him.
You Shall Know Our Velocity
Dave Eggers, 2002
Since his first book, “A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius,” first took the reading world by storm, Dave Eggers has been a fixture on the literary and creative circuit in the United States. This is a good thing — a very, very good thing. “You Shall Know Our Velocity” is Eggers’ entre into the world of road trip literature but this effort takes us around the world rather than just the United States. Regardless of locale, Eggers’ words have a way of taking the reader on great adventures.
Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark, a lot of Bad Motels, A Moving Van, Emily Post, Jack Kerouac, My Wife, My Mother-in-law, Two Kids and Enough Coffee to Kill an Elephant
Robert Sullivan, 2006
While it’s hard not to get swept up in the vast expanses, inspiring vistas and the cacophony of architectural styles and natural landscapes that a cross-country American road trip presents, once you’ve done it over two dozen times, as Robert Sullivan and his family have, you start noticing different things. Things like the various styles of to-go coffee lids; beef jerky wrappers; branches; bark; tumbleweed. Sullivan has a special gift for transforming the mundane (as well as the very far from mundane) into revelatory moments that will make you see your next road trip — whether across town or across the country — in a brand new light.
West with the Night
Beryl Markham, 1942
Let’s get a few things straight: Beryl Markham was not American and this book is not about America nor cars for that matter. Regardless, it is a must read for the adventure-starved, hibernating soul that lives in all of us and is yearning to get out. Markham, if you don’t know, was a British pilot and “West with the Night” is essentially her flight log documenting her travels across the African continent. If it inspired Ernest Hemingway to claim that the book is written “so marvelously well that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer,” then what are you waiting for? Grab a copy and get to dreaming of where your next trip will take you.