GOOD Books: Road Trip Lit GOOD Books for Road Trips

Planning to hit the open road this summer? These five books will inspire you.

A year ago yesterday, I packed most of my stuff in a Honda Civic and began a rite of passage undertaken by countless New Englanders in search of mellow weather and vibes: I drove to California. Seventeen days and 20 states later, I arrived in Los Angeles.

For me and my partner in crime, the focal point of the trip was eating right. By 'right' I mean gorging on ribs in Texas, chiles in New Mexico, and everything we laid eyes on in New Orleans. A few books on road food and the Yelp app for my smart phone served as a our Bible.

But not everybody's road trip is all about eating. Turns out some travelers focus on other things, like personal growth. (Who knew?) So I turned to Nona Willis Aronowitz, GOOD's associate editor, resident road trip expert, and author of Girldrive, for her picks on great road trip reading. We've got a little something for everyone, depending on what you're looking for in a road trip.

Red Highways: A Liberal's Journey Into the Heartland
By Rose Aguilar
240 Pages. PoliPoint Press. $15.95

If you're looking for: The 'real America.' A reason to yell "USA, USA."

On the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama summarized the stereotypical liberal view of American conservatives with one pithy remark: "They cling to guns or religion..." Yet, as he went on to acknowledge, there's more to red states than the gun toting, mega-church attending "other." Rose Aguilar, a San Francisco journalist, set out to meet and interview "them" during a six-month long road trip in 2009. Aguilar's travelogue, Red Highways, brings us through red states like Utah and Oklahoma, where she talks to the sort of unconventional characters who are typically ignored by mainstream media: for example, a Montana hunter who gives up his job to work on gay rights. Bringing such stories to light, Aguilar drives home the point that voters around the country have complicated and diverse political perspectives that the red state/blue state divide doesn't begin to capture.

Becoming Chloe
By Catherine Ryan Hyde
224 Pages. Random House Children's Books. $8.99

If you're looking for: A second chance. Teen melodrama.

Don't hate us for throwing a young adult novel on this list! A bit of the genre's melodrama may be just the thing to make the time fly when cruising the interstate highway system's more boring stretches. And according to Nona, the book "shows the healing elements of getting out on the road" like none other. Becoming Chloe tells the tale of two downtrodden New York City teens, gay runaway Jordy and recovering rape-victim Chloe, who hit the road to escape the city and find a better life. It's Jordy's mission to prove to Chloe that the world does still have beauty to offer, so they hit up the Grand Canyon. You'll have to read it to see if Chloe agrees.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
By Tom Wolfe
432 Pages. Picador. $16.00

If you're looking for: An acid flashback. Hippie nostalgia.

Along with On the Road and Easy Rider, Tom Wolfe's Acid Test helped define the myth of the hippy road-trip. Day-glo bus? Check. Running from the law? Of course. Excessive drug use? Duh. This "non-fiction novel" novel is the product of Wolfe's immersion in the groovy 1960s culture of the Pranksters, whose psychedelic romp around the country taught a generation to live spectacularly and make a happening out of the everyday. Tag along with the gang as they drop acid with Hell's Angels, rock out at early Grateful Dead shows, and, um, drop some more acid. It'll probably make any road trip plans you have feel puritanical by comparison.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
By Ropert M. Pirsig
464 Pages. HaperPerennial. $16.99

If you're looking for: Truth. Father-son bonding. Wisdom on the good life.

If you browse reviews for this book online, you'll find a ton of people saying it changed their lives. At the very least, it'll change your road trip. Pirsig's classic tells the story of a father-son motorcycle trip from Minnesota to California, during which the narrator engages with 2,000 years worth of philosophy, seeking answers to the question of how to live meaningfully in the modern age. It's heavy stuff, and might take a couple reads to really grasp. Nona adds that the philosophy part is great, "but what really compelled me was the road trip element—having all that time alone with a parent."

Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism
By Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein
220 Pages. Seal Press. $19.95

If you're looking for: Female perspectives from across the USA.

Jack Kerouac, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson: the canon of road trip literature is dominated by dudes. When women do show up as protagonists, they're often running away from something (think Thelma and Louise or even the aforementioned Chloe). Yet Girldrive, by Emma Bee Bernstein and GOOD's own associate editor Nona Willis Aronowitz, shakes this all up. The two collaborators set out to investigate the state of contemporary feminism, speaking with more than 100 women around the country and compiling their photos, interviews, and diary entries. In doing so, they give 21st century feminism a face and show that it doesn't just live in our coastal cities.


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