Robert Reid is the U.S. Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. In a column written exclusively for BookPage, he highlights terrific travel books, both old and new. This month, he selects some of the best books on the classic road trip.
Have you heard the news? Along with “Dallas” and colored denim, the great American road trip is back in 2012.
No type of travel is more “what you make of it” than hitting the road. Reading up before you go not only gets you inspired, but helps you build an itinerary. Here are a few books to get you started.
For a road trip dream-planner, Lonely Planet’s award-winning USA’s Best Trips: 99 Themed Itineraries Across America has creative routes that crisscross all regions of the country and cover a broad selection of interests, including some you might never have considered before (anyone for a green-chile focused tour of New Mexico?). The next two I’m planning are the kitschtastic scoot across parts of old Route 66, or the short trip through the nation’s best old-fashioned diner zone in New Jersey.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is 55 this year and is still the definitive testament to the glory of the American road, even if you don’t plan to hitchhike or survive mostly on pie. People are buzzing about it again as the movie version is finally coming out, after many failures. Even if you’ve read it before, pick up On the Road: The Original Scroll, which reads like it was first typed: single-spaced on a continuous 120-foot scroll. Left in are wilder passages that were edited out of the 1957 edition.
If you’re ready to go but still in need of a destination, page through the inspired State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, featuring essays on all 50 states by 50 well-known writers. Designed to look like a reprisal of the WPA Guides from the FDR era, the book has many surprising and convincing turns. Dave Eggers’ spirited case for why Illinois is the best state is a standout, pulling together skyscrapers, Lincoln, license plates and friendliness on the road.
If you’re like me and could spend hours scouring maps and wondering about place names from Orange, New Jersey, to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, go to George Stewart’s pure-fun Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States, now a classic almost 70 years after its release. It’ll make you want to hit the road, and that’s what this is all about.
Robert Reid is the U.S. Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. He lives in New York and dreams of one day driving home to Oklahoma with a bulldog.