Top 5 American Road Trip Books and The List

“A genuine road book should open unknown realms in its words as it does in its miles. If you leave a journey exactly who you were before you departed, the trip has been much wasted, even if it’s just to the Quickee Mart.” William Least Heat Moon in Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey.

home 003While you could fill a library shelf with American Road Trip books, the 5 most outstanding American road trip books would fit on the nightstand.

Everyone lists:

  • Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America , by William Least Heat Moon
  • On the Road  by Jack Kerouac

I would agree with those who also list:

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  by Robert M. Pirsig
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

To follow Travels with Charley, San Jose State University Center for Steinbeck Studies suggests some more books

  • Sideways  by Rex Pickett (2004) (and the movie of the same name)
  • Loop Group, by Larry McMurtry (2004)
  • I Dream of Microwaves  by Imad Rahman (2004)
  • American Nomads: Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, Truckers, and Bullriders by Richard Grant (2004)
  • South of Haunted Dreams: A Memoir by Eddy L. Harris (1993)

And here are some miscellaneous others:

  • The Drifters by James Michener 1960’s young people traveling.
  • Through Painted Deserts:Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road by Donald Miller
  • Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson (mother-daughter road trip)
  • Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own by Doreen Orion. (with a title like that, you gotta read it.)
  • The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson
  • Roads by Larry McMurtry (reviewed here along with Steinbeck’s Travel’s With Charley–linked above)
  • Autumn Across America by Edwin Way Teale  (A Naturalist’s 20,000 mile trip)Teale also wrote North with the Spring, and Journey Into Summer and Wandering Through Winter.
  • Roads to Quoz by William Least Heat Moon (2008—seems to be sinking without much fuss)

Many other road trip books have been written about horseback journeys, bicycle journeys, walking journeys, and journeys in other countries. But for now, let’s stick with the U.S.  and motorized transportation.

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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, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip 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.

15 thoughts on “Top 5 American Road Trip Books and The List

  1. While the American road trip is of the same genera as The Odyssey and Huckleberry Finn, it is something that we can plausibly imagine ourselves doing. And if there be no Cyclops or Lystraigonians in the next town, if we stop and strike up a conversation we may yet find wonders enough to delight us, if we be the sort of traveler on whom nothing is wasted.

  2. I would also add, Into the Wild. I know but looking literally it is a road journey. Also and I
    Know people won’t like this but Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas I love. But my all time favorite is THE DRIFTERS!

  3. this got me thinking that most of my favourite road trip books are about trips by foot. however, one that’ve liked that’s by motorized transport (scooter) is Peter S.Beagle’s I See by My Outfit. cross country trip in 1963.
    .-= Kerry Dexter hopes you will read blog ..patrick season: music and mist =-.

  4. I’m an old road trip fan–and a booklover. My favorites are:
    – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig)
    – Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck)
    – On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
    – Air-Conditioned Nightmare (Henry Miller)
    – Blue Highways (William Least Heat Moon)

    1. Thanks for your contribution. I’m with you on three of your choices, but I must admit that I never heard of Air-Conditioned Nightmare by Henry Miller. Sounds interesting. But I still have a hard time including Kerouac’s On the Road in a list of road trip books. I think it is more of a coming of age memoir. He’s not so interested in the things he sees, and places he rolls through as he is in his own life and that of his pals. Plus, I have yet to find anyone who loves that book who read it after their twenties.

    2. Noticing your mention of John Steinbeck — whose creativity has lately come to be more appreciated, as has that of other masters of the field — I wonder how important factual accuracy is to the genre of travel literature. Or is travel literature distinguishable from other forms of writing about travel by the diminished importance of strict factuality?

  5. I used to teach a course called, “The Great American Road Trip” and included many of the books listed above. I also recommend The Lies Boys Tell by Lamar Herrin, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (or Fool’s Progress, which is more of a road trip and less of a book), Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, and The Grapes of Wrath. And that’s just the start — I could keep on going for days!
    .-= Todd Felton´s last blog ..Tours to Go =-.

    1. Todd:

      You always have such good ideas. Desert Solitaire is on my list for a series on Southwest literature. Somebody else mentioned Grapes of Wrath to me as a road trip book–had not thought of it that way. And I’ve never read any of Richrd Ford, or Lamar Herrin let along Rock Springs or Lies, so I need to get to work. Huge thanks, anyhow. Maybe we should have you back to talk about road trip books one of these days?

  6. I agree that those pioneer trips are fascinating. The journals of the Conquistadors, Lewis and Clark, our great-great-grandfather….
    But perhaps I should better stick to books that will be more applicable to today’s traveler? What do you all think?

  7. Reach back a little and you will find Francis Parkman’s Oregon Trail is a fine road trip recollection and meditation from an age when roads were merely trails and hunches. If nothing else, his observations on the American Indians with whom he lived make this an American classic. Twentieth century road trips pale by comparison.

    1. The rigors of the trip ruined Parkman’s health and led eventually to his death. But then people regularly ruin their health to much less good result, and he did get a classic out of it, so who am I to cavil.

  8. Brenda: Aww, blush. Glad you found us and hope you’ll stick around.
    Judith: Yeah, one of the benefits/downsides of doing this blog is the constant temptation. Not only want to go–but want to buy an impossible number of books! But I just got back from a road trip, and don’t have road trips out of my mind yet.

  9. Vera, thanks for reminding me of all the great “road trip” books out there. I wanta hit the road NOW!

  10. Hi, I found your site through Spot Cool Stuff about two weeks ago. I don’t have anything specific to add on the best road trip books (except to say that I loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Just wanted to mention how much I’ve liked reading your posts. Thanks.

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