Great American road trip adventures

Road Trips, Travel Writers & Books — By on February 16, 2010 at 7:20 am

Americans love road trips. They love taking them and they often enjoy reading about them, as well. But what are the best U.S. road trip books ever written? Smithsonian magazine took a stab at that question and came up with a list of 11 titles, which are featured in a recent article. Here is an excerpt:

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, 1957
When this semi-autobiographical work was published, the New York Timeshailed it as the “most important utterance” by anyone from the Beat Generation. Though he changed the names, the characters in the novel have real life counterparts. Salvatore “Sal” Paradise (Kerouac) from New York City meets Dean Moriarty (fellow beatnik Neal Cassady) on a cross-country journey fueled by drugs, sex and poetry The novel’s protagonists crisscross the United States and venture into Mexico on three separate trips that reveal much about the character of the epic hero, Moriarty, and the narrator.

Travels With Charley John Steinbeck, 1962
Near the end of his career, John Steinbeck set out to rediscover the country he had made a living writing about. With only his French poodle Charley as company, he embarked on a three-month journey across most of the continental United States. On his way, he meets the terse residents of Maine, falls in love with Montana and watches desegregation protests in New Orleans. Although Steinbeck certainly came to his own conclusions on his journey, he respects individual experience: He saw what he saw and knows that anyone else would have seen something different.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenanceby Robert M. Pirsig, 1974
A deep, philosophical book that masquerades as a simple story of a father-and-son motorcycle trip, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenanceis Pirsig’s first foray into philosophy writing. Their motorcycle trip from Minneapolis to San Francisco is also a trip through Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. His friend, a romantic, lives by the principle of Zen and relies on mechanics to fix his motorcycle. Pirisg, on the other hand, leaves nothing up to chance and knows the ins and outs of maintaining his bike.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon, 1982
After losing his wife and job as a professor, William Least Heat-Moon sets out on a soul-searching journey across the United States. He avoids large cities and interstates, choosing to travel only on “blue” highways—so called for their color in the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Along the way, he meets and records conversations with a born-again Christian hitchhiker, an Appalachian log cabin restorer, a Nevada prostitute and a Hopi Native American medical student.

See the entire list of 11 books in the full story. What titles would you add to this collection?

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