Road trips are an iconic part of America. There is something about the expanse of the road that opens up the mind to new attitudes, new beliefs, new hopes, and new dreams. It's the perfect place to confess, to do something naughty, to quite literally go after your future. Since most of us are confined to our couches for the time being, we’ve rounded up some riotous and riveting road trip reads that will give you a taste of the open road and the adventures that follow.
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
America for Beginners follows an unlikely trio of characters as they travel across the United States together, and it’s everything you would want it to be: funny, heartwarming, sad, and illuminating. Pival Sengupta, a wealthy Indian widow, has never left Kolkata, but upon her husband’s death, she decides to travel to America to find out the truth about her estranged son, Rahi, whom she and her husband abandoned when they learned he was gay. Satya is her tour guide, a young Bangladeshi immigrant, and Rebecca is her female companion (for propriety's sake)—a sprite young American woman trying to make it as an actor. Though they couldn’t be more different, the three form an enduring bond as they travel from New York to Niagara Falls, New Orleans and finally, to California—all the while learning from one another about the different ways to view the world and to experience it.
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
Will Quichotte ever find his true love? Only an epic road trip will tell. Our hero, who takes his name from Don Quixote, is a wildly entertaining older man who decides he is destined to love and be loved by Salma R., a movie star-turned-talk show host. Prone to absolutist notions of love and the journey it requires, he visits all sorts of things on his drive across the country towards her – including his estranged sister, his previous job as a Fentanyl salesman, and a newfound son. Rushdie’s Quichotte is a riotous satire of America today, and it’s a great ride.
Once More to the Rodeo: A Memoir by Calvin Hennick
What does it mean to be a man in America today? How do you explain the world to your son when you are white and he is not? What if you want a drink of whiskey, but know that if you have one sip you'll finish the bottle? These are just some of the questions that Calvin Hennick wrestles with on his road trip west with his son. Once More to the Rodeo is a pull-at-your-heartstrings account of their conversations and observations of what surrounds them literally and metaphorically. On the trip, and in life, Hennick is determined to be there for his son (even though his own dad was not): to love him, to support him, to show him what manhood looks like, while ensuring they have the “most fun anybody’s ever had.”
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
There's a certain beat to C Pam Zhang’s novel, which makes the story of two siblings who must fend for themselves after the death of their father all the more poignant and fresh. Set in a re-imagined and unforgiving American West, Lucy and Sam are on the run and determined to give their father a proper funeral—but where? Part adventure, part reckoning, Zhang investigates what it means to fit in when you’re on the move and don’t look like anyone else. This surreal novel touches on topics of immigration, race, and identity as the siblings roam in search of a place to belong.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Emily St. John Mandel took the world by storm with her dystopian novel Station Eleven about a group of traveling performers moving from one town to the next as the world around them perishes from a deathly virus. There are, of course, parallels to the coronavirus we’re living through right now, and Mandel is particularly apt at conveying the world pre-virus and post-virus, as her characters determinedly follow their art and share it with those still breathing.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Let’s face it, a road trip book list is not complete without the de-facto godfather of the genre, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This novel defined a generation, gave a jazzy beat to literature, and is imbued with the kind of madcap American optimism and adventure that Jack Kerouac embodied. On the one hand, it is a coming of age memoir of friends (or con men) bumping around the country searching for identity, authenticity, and kicks. On the other, it’s a tribute to the importance of living in the moment and enjoying the endless opportunities (sybaritic or virtuous) that come with a life lived on the go.
These books will remind you that it's about the journey and not the destination.