11 Literary American Road Trips; 10 Adventure Novels; and Theroux

 

Lonely Road, Oregon

Paul Theroux Visits the U.S.A. for Smithsonian

Going for a drive this weekend? Or this end-of-summer? Or just staying home and staring balefully at your suitcase? Here’s some happy travel reading, either way.

Paul Theroux, who is generally not my favorite travel writer, was asked by Smithsonian what his ideal trip would be, and this world traveler, who has been in just about every corner of the earth–on the map or off–chose an American Road Trip.

What is it with Americans and the Road Trip?  Can we thank President Dwight Eisenhower for the Interstate Highway system? But no, it started before the 1950s. Does it spring from our feeling of unlimited horizons? Are there other countries that love the road as Americans do?

Five other stellar travel writers played this little game with Smithsonian, picking their yearned for destination, with some surprising but enjoyable results. I clicked over to the Theroux piece, intending to skim the first page and move on, but he captured my attention and totally charmed me. This is the same sharply observant Theroux, but definitely a kinder, gentler, man than his generally grouchy persona. So I highly recommend that you take a look at Taking the Great American Road Trip. One can only hope that he will develop this wonderful piece of travel literature into a book length treatment. I have no doubt that his 3500 mile trip gave him enough material. Perhaps he will reconsider Santa Fe.

And speaking of travel literature, accompanying this article, Smithsonian chimes in with a list by Abby Callard of Great Road Trips in American Literature. I’m sure you can find many additions to this list!

If you are in the mood for something more adventurous, Adventure Scout posted this back in July, about the Top Ten Adventure Novelists of All Times. (Update 6/27: Apparently this blog has been deactivated. Sorry) These are very interesting, and the list includes many books that should be on every traveler’s library. Again, we can keep adding to this list, I’ll bet.

Your turn—what would you add to these lists? Which ones are you putting on your to-be-read list? And what would you like Paul Theroux to see that he missed on his first grand road trip?

Other road trip articles: Steinbeck and McMurtry Hit the Road, 5 Road Trip Books and the List, Guide Books for the Road Trip.

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A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler’s Library, recreating her family’s past at Ancestors In Aprons. She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.


About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons. She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

8 thoughts on “11 Literary American Road Trips; 10 Adventure Novels; and Theroux

  1. I just noticed the caption to your photograph: “a lonely road in Oregon”. I think I have been there. Or one of so many places along the road that looked like that. One spring I left Ashland to drive across the country to Cape Cod and saw places like that in the beautiful desolation of Eastern Oregon. I stopped at antique and secondhand shops and bought arrowheads chipped from volcanic glass and found by ranchers. At a shop in a converted gas station I was offered a leather fetish, beaded and in the shape of a turtle, which I recognized as almost certainly containing the umbilical of a 19th Century Indian, which in the old days would have been buried with him. There was no indication that it had been buried and must have been left with his belongings after the old life collapsed and someone found it and didn’t understand what it was and sold it as just another “old thing”. I could not in good conscience buy it, and did not even want to handle it.

    What a wonderful adventure it was — and still is — to drive across America.

    1. Davis: That particular road was on the way to the west side of Hell’s Canyon. Sounds like you indeed were in some of the same territory we were in. What fascinating little towns in Western Oregon!

  2. The Great American Road Trip began before the Interstate, but not much before, as intercity roads were pretty bad. The Army did a survey of highways in the late ’30s with an eye to moving men and materiel for defense purposes and found them pretty awful. That, and exposure to the Autobahn, were behind Eisenhower’s promotion of the Interstate System.

    Americans had affordable cars and cheap gasoline. You could drive thousands of miles and still be among people who spoke English. Where people were law-abiding and the food and water were safe. Things were different enough to be interesting and familiar enough to be reassuring. I suspect that the availability of fraternal lodges — the ability to call on brother Elks and fellow Masons in strange towns — may also have figured.

    And the road trip meant freedom. What’s not to like about it?

    If anything, the Interstate may have made the road trip less desirable. Made it entirely too easy to make driving just a matter of getting from here to there, ignoring all that America at the end of the off-ramp, and traveling from one NPR station to the next.

  3. my American road trip, both of places I’ve been and places I’d like to go, would be quite different. more borders, I think — and Taos rather than Santa Fe. Billings, Durango, Austin, Tallahassee, Bloomington, Charlottesville, Portland — I’d have to have a few of those too. I’d also suggest Kathy Mattea’s album Coal for a West Virginia soundtrack.
    .-= Kerry Dexter´s last blog ..photographing music, again =-.

    1. Kerry: Thanks for the soundtrack! I’m about to launch a 50-state project, and will be calling on you for soundtracks for lots of states. Needless to say, I have a bunch already for Louisiana–both cajun country and N’awlins jazz.

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