Looking to hit the road? These five road trip classics will get you going!
On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Originally published in 1957 On The Road chronicles Kerouac’s adventures traveling across the United States. Reportedly written in 3 weeks on a 120 foot typewritten scroll, the manuscript was revised over the next decade before being published, most notably being edited for obscenities, and changing names of fellow beat generation companions like Allen Ginsburg and Neal Cassady to avoid libel. The original ending of the manuscript was lost – the missing end of the scroll is noted by Kerouac: ‘Ate by Patchkee, a dog’.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson. The story follows Thompson, as Raoul Duke, and his attorney Dr. Gonzo, on two trips to Las Vegas in 1971, highlighting the drug frenzy and culture coming out of the 1960s, and the decline of the American Dream. Originally published as a two part series in Rolling Stone, it later became a book (First Edition 1972) and gained a resurgence of fame when produced as a movie starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro in 1998.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. The chronicle of a 1960 road trip across the United States taken by author John Steinbeck and his wife’s standard poodle Charley, in pickup truck/camper named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse. He started from Long Island, NY traveled along the outer border of the U.S., approximately 10,000 miles, in order to find the America he felt he had lost touch with after traveling in Europe for 20 years as a well-known author (he won the Pulitzer Prize for Grapes of Wrath in 1939). First published in 1962, the same year Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. First published in 1955 in France, Nabakov wrote Lolita over the course of summer road trips taken between 1948-1953. The main purpose of his trips from Ithaca N.Y. to Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana was to study butterflies, and as Nabokov didn’t drive he was passenger to his wife Vera over the 150,000 miles they traversed in their black Oldsmobile. He was inspired by the landscape and culture of postwar America and wrote his controversial novel on 5×7 notes cards during their travels.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Pirsig’s classic is based on a road trip he took in 1968 with his then 12 year old son across the United States. It was rejected by 121 publishers before being published in 1974, since then selling over 5 million copies and now appearing in the Guinness Book of Records as the bestselling book rejected by the largest number of publishers.
What are your favorite American road trip books?
Amy C. Manikowski is a writer living in Asheville, NC.