Time for a Literary Road Trip
Time for a Literary Road Trip
In a typical year, when the thick summer heat descends, you might plot an escape from everyday life. But this is not a typical year, and whether you’re trapped in your home office or on your couch, the urge to get away from it all is likely stronger than ever. A road trip — one way to take a cautious vacation — might be the answer to this malaise. But if you’ll be staying put, these books offer the thrills of the open road, of driving fast into a new reality, far from the safety of your own home.
The title of Mona Simpson’s first novel, “Anywhere But Here,” might capture your current mood. But hopefully you have it better than Ann, the 12-year-old daughter of the charismatic yet impulsive Adele. The pair flee Wisconsin for California in the hopes of making Ann a child star, yet their path is littered with Adele’s emotional detritus. The story’s rich details, our reviewer wrote in 1987, are “generous irrelevances — the author taking time out from her characters and their battling to enjoy the world that contains them and us.”
For science fiction that hits close to home, turn to Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven.” A flu pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population within weeks. Twenty years later, a troupe of performers roam North America, performing mostly Shakespeare to the remaining human enclaves. Like so many of us, they only want “what was best about the world.”
While many road trips head west, the family in Jade Chang’s “The Wangs vs. the World” drives in the opposite direction. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the devastated Wangs pack up their Bel Air estate and drive to upstate New York. Chang proves, our reviewer wrote in 2016, that struggling with the immigrant identity “can at least be funny and strange, especially when you struggle together with family.”
If the White House is on your mind, consider Sarah Vowell’s “Assassination Vacation,” a humorous road trip into presidential history. The “This American Life” regular travels to an array of historic sites connected to the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Vowell combines gruesome historical details and prescient political insights, all with a healthy dose of cheek. And couldn’t we all use a laugh?
“Paper Towns,” by John Green, is a young-adult novel, but don’t let that deter you. When popular girl Margo Roth Spiegelman drags her nerdy neighbor Quentin out of his room at midnight, high jinks ensue. But when, the very next day, Margo disappears, a series of clues lead Quentin to embark on a cross-country road trip to find her.
When William Least Heat-Moon lost his job teaching English, he set out to explore the back roads of American life. His book “Blue Highways” was the result. Heat-Moon visited small towns like Subtle, Ky., and Scratch Ankle, Alaska, absorbing local color and wisdom. He traveled the country’s perimeter in this way, our reviewer wrote in 1983, “as if he wanted to try to grasp it in his arms.”
Not a car person? Consider the motorcycle. Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s “The Perfect Vehicle” recounts the joys of biking and its community, while providing a history of the mode of transport. Pierson writes that bikers prefer the motorcycle because they “want a way to feel fully engaged with and even vulnerable to their surroundings.” And at this particular moment, open-air transportation certainly has its appeal.