Monday blends into Tuesday, Tuesday blends into Wednesday, Wednesday … well you get the picture … I think it’s time to hit the road. Here are 13 books, in no particular order, to help you get out of the rut and return to the open road.
1) On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.
Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be Beat and has inspired every generation since its initial publication more than fifty years ago.
2) Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat Moon
Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is an unforgettable journey along our nation’s backroads. William Least Heat-Moon set out with little more than the need to put home behind him and a sense of curiosity about “those little towns that get on the map–if they get on at all–only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon; Simplicity, Virginia; New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi.” His adventures, his discoveries, and his recollections of the extraordinary people he encountered along the way amount to a revelation of the true American experience.
3) The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson’s unsparing and hilarious account of his travels across America in search of the perfect small town. At the end of his journey, Bryson finds not the idyllic town of his dream, but a sure understanding of America–and a certainty that despite the poverty and ignorance, there is much good in the land.
4) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintence: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert Pirsig
A penetrating examination of how we live and how to live better. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions on how to live. The narrator’s relationship with his son leads to a powerful self-reckoning; the craft of motorcycle maintenance leads to an austerely beautiful process for reconciling science, religion, and humanism. Resonant with the confusions of existence, this classic is a touching and transcendent book of life.
5) Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Desert Solitaire is a collection of vignettes about life in the wilderness and the nature of the desert itself by park ranger and conservationist, Edward Abbey. The book details the unique adventures and conflicts the author faces, from dealing with the damage caused by development of the land or excessive tourism, to discovering a dead body. However Desert Solitaire is not just a collection of one man’s stories. The book is also a philosophical memoir, full of Abbey’s reflections on the desert as a paradox, at once beautiful and liberating, but also isolating and cruel. Often compared to Thoreau’s Walden, Desert Solitaire is a powerful discussion of life’s mysteries set against the stirring backdrop of the American southwestern wilderness.
6) Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.
Krakauer brings McCandless’s uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity, and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding–and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a “tour de force.” The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer’s stoytelling blaze through every page.
7) A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
With his offbeat sensibility, his eye for the absurd, and his laugh-out-loud sense of humor, Bryson recounts his confrontations with nature at its most uncompromising over his five-month journey along the Appalachian Trail in this “New York Times” bestseller.
8) Around the World in Seventy-Two Days by Nellie Bly
The work by the legendary undercover journalist.
Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, Nellie Bly was one of the first and best female journalists in America and quickly became a national phenomenon in the late 1800s. This is her travelogue from her record-breaking race around the world in 72 days without a chaperone.
9) Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson
A cult classic with an ever-growing audience, Tracks is the brilliantly written and frequently hilarious account of a young woman’s odyssey through the deserts of Australia, with no one but her dog and four camels as companions. Davidson emerges as a heroine who combines extraordinary courage with exquisite sensitivity.
10) Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to Key West, cultural critic and radio commentator Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by assassination, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism.
11) Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking around America with Interruptions by Jenny Diski
Using two cross-country trips on Amtrak as her narrative vehicles, British writer Jenny Diski connects the humming rails, taking her into the heart of America with the track-like scars leading back to her own past. As in the highly acclaimed Skating to Antarctica, Diski has created a seamless and seemingly effortless amalgam of reflections and revelation in a unique combination of travelogue and memoir.
12) Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing by Erika Lopez
Tomato Rodriguez hops on her motorcycle and embarks on the ultimate sea-to-shining-sea all-girl adventure — a story that combines all the best parts of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Easy Rider” as Tomato crosses the country in search of the meaning of life, love, and the perfect post office.
Flaming Iguanas is a hilarious novel that combines text, line drawings, rubber stamp art, and a serious dose of attitude. The result is a wild and wonderful ride unlike any you you’ve ever taken before.
13) American Nomads By Richard Grant
Fascinated by the land of endless horizons, sunshine, and the open road, Richard Grant spent fifteen years wandering throughout the United States, never spending more than three weeks in one place and getting to know America’s nomads, truckers, tramps, rodeo cowboys, tie-dyed concert followers, flea market traders, retirees who live year round in their RVs, and the murderous Freight Train Riders of America (FTRA). In a richly comic travelogue, Grant uses these lives and his own to examine the myths and realities of the wandering life and its contradiction with the sedentary American dream. Along with a personal account, American Nomads traces the history of wandering in the New World, through vividly told stories of frontiersmen, fur trappers and cowboys, Comanche and Apache warriors, all the way back to the first Spanish explorers who crossed the continent. What unites these disparate characters, as they range back and forth across the centuries, is a stubborn conviction that the only true freedom is to roam across the land.