Happy Canada Day! As we kick into summer, many of us will be loading up the car and hitting the highway. Road trip songs get plenty of attention as we pull onto the tarmac but what about books? Shouldn’t our reading material get as much thought as our music? I don’t know about you, but for me there’s only so much conversation after the first hundred kilometres or so and those long stretches of endless trees just scream for a diversion.
In celebration of the summer road trip here are eight favourites honouring life-changing journeys and its great odyssey of self-discovery. If your travelling companion isn’t captivating enough, these writers tell stories so fascinating the miles will fly by. (Fun fact: The road trip genre practically begs for the big screen – seven were later made into movies!)
WILD by Cheryl Strayed
This autobiographical story is an intoxicating read based on the writer’s 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Following the death of her mother, the breakdown of her marriage and her descent into drugs and mindless sex, Strayed explores her demons and her pain while dealing with lost shoes, wild coyotes and endless solitude. With unrelenting humour she discovers the truths of her relationships and spiritual realizations.
EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES by Tom Robbins
A classic of the 1960s, this book was also later made into a movie starring Uma Thurman. Sissy Hankshaw, flawlessly beautiful and born with the gift of unusually large thumbs will hitchhike straight into your heart. Magical, wacky, warm and funny, you’ll never want the ride to end.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
Remember back in high school when your English teacher bored you to death with this? Well dust it off and find space in your backpack. Set during the Great Depression, the Joad family leave their Oklahoma farm to travel Route 66 to California in search of jobs, dignity and a future. Steinbeck’s extraordinary humanity and brilliant writing ensure its rightful place in the canons of great American classics. You’re an adult now – it’s different!
INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer
In 1992, a young man left his well-to-do family, abandoned his future and invented a new life for himself. From Virginia to South Dakota to Alaska, this non-fiction tracks the tragic journey of Christopher McCandless as he disappears into the wilderness to face nature on its own harsh terms. Four months later, his body was found. Captivating and sad with a telling eye for detail, Krakauer’s story is a mystery of painful proportions.
ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
No road trip list would be complete without the hippy classic of Beat writer Kerouac. Based on his travels with his friends across the U.S. and their free-spirited adventures, the novel is told in five drug-induced, alcoholic parts as they search for something meaningful to hold on to in a post-war world. Jazz, bebop and early R&B loom large so make sure your playlist contains some Charlie Parker and Miles Davis to groove along with.
TRACKS by Robyn Davidson
In 1975 Davidson moved to Alice Springs in Western Australia where she spent two years training camels in preparation for her “lunatic idea” to travel across the desert. Travelling 1,700 miles to the west coast with four camels and a dog, her desert trek is an amazing feat of courage and perseverance. Along the way, Davidson is met by a National Geographic photographer who captured her fascinating journey and brought her international attention. Davidson has a keen empathy for indigenous peoples as well as for the environment. Her beautiful writing makes it an unforgettably powerful story.
AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
Written over six weeks, this southern Gothic novel is consistently considered one of the best of 20th century literature. Narrated by 15 different characters in 59 chapters, it is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family’s 10-day journey to honour her wish to be buried in her Mississippi hometown. Filled with religious and metaphysical symbols, Faulkner explores the fragility of life with dark humour and his characters’ rich inner lives.
STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel
Extraordinary novel about the end of the world - almost. A devastating pandemic sweeps across the globe killing everyone but a handful of people. The book weaves back and forth in time before the event and after as a nomadic group of actors and musicians struggle to survive through a post-apocalyptic world. Eerie twists of fate, charismatic prophets and a world where everything we take for granted ceases to exist. Don’t read this one alone in your tent!
Wherever the road takes you this summer, the best of this genre allows us to find community in stories that mirror our own or to walk into a world very different from the one we know. Here’s to great road trips and safe travels.
In hopes of getting some of my own writing done, I’m switching my blog to every other week instead of weekly for the summer. Please let me know if there’s something you want to see more of, or less of, and don’t forget to share it with other book lovers. Feel free to comment with suggestions, opinions or anything else you want to chime in on.