Have Books, Will Travel - Reading Road Trip Across America

8 years ago

One of the greatest things about reading is that it can take you virtually anywhere without ever having to leave your house (or library or park bench or wherever you happen to find yourself.) An equally great thing is to be inspired to go and see the places described in books - to use them as inspiration for seeking out these places beyond their pages.  

Long ago, before reading anything in a moving vehicle made me sick, I tore through books in the car just like I did everywhere else. I read constantly, and being on the move didn't stop me. The last book I remember reading completely on a road trip was Anne Rice's The Queen of the Damned on a trip to Disney World with my family in 1990. Parts of it do take place in Florida, oddly enough, and having no interest in visiting the underworld unless and until I absolutely have to, I was probably more taken with the descriptions of London than I was anywhere else in the book. 

Last week, Twitter friend Janine tweeted about Sandra Foyt of On Living by Learning and her plan for a Read Across America road trip with her kids.  it sounded great to me, so I clicked over.

I’m planning a road trip across the USA.  Just me, two kids, an old Chevy Suburban, backpacking gear, and a stack of books.

Usually, I pick a location, pack a few guide books, and go.  I can’t
do that this time as there are time constraints to consider: setting
aside time for visiting friends in California; and arriving in time to
meet my husband at the airport when he flies in.  Nevertheless, I’m
determined to immerse my family in a variety of American adventures,
despite having to limit the length of our stops.

Their stops will include Hannibal, Missouri - home of Tom Sawyer; Channel Islands National Park in California, inspired by The Island of the Blue Dolphins, and one of my personal childhood dream spots, DeSmet, South Dakota, home of the Ingalls family and their legendary daughter, author Laura Ingalls Wilder. They'll be listening to audio versions of the books, and discussing them as they go. 

(Not DeSmet, but Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura eventually moved and lived the rest of her life. Photo from Ingalls-Wilder archives.) 

Foyt says her inspiration for this and other travel-related reading is Storybook Travels: from Eloise's New York to Harry Potter's London, Visits to 30 of the Best-Loved Landmarks in Children's Literature by Colleen Dunn Bates and Susan LaTempa. (This Parenthood.com review highlights several of the destinations in the book and the books that inspired them.) She also includes links to several online resources she's using to plan her trip, as well as other books about road trips. Her son, a budding paleontologist, just wants to look for fossils. For him she'll bring Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway:An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000 Mile Paleo Road Trip. For her daughter, "a connoiseur of the weird and unusual," she'll have 101 Places You Gotta See Before You're 12.

I travel without children, but as a book lover and avid traveler I find this idea just as appealing. And it doesn't matter who you've got in the car with you - or certainly if you're on your own.  Since I discovered this idea I've been thinking of cities and regions I love that have amazing literary history, that have inspired me to seek out the voices writing about them - New Orleans, San Francisco, New York, London (I'm an Austen fan - I could go for a country tour, no problem.) Hemingway made me see and taste Europe almost like I was there, and when I go back, I should probably bring A Moveable Feast for a re-read. KantoGirl probably would too.

There are many others. I loved Linda Ellerbees memoir of food and travel, Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table. I've even listened to the ultimate head and road trip book, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, while I was driving back to Ohio. I know it's  love or hate thing for the most part, but if you're in Denver and have a thing for the beats, check out the Beat Poetry Driving Tour. (Of course.) 

What books could inspire you to road trip? What would a road trip inspire you to read?

For now, I'm stuck on Foyt's DeSmet idea, and completely openly jealous of Wendy McClure's recent trips to visit Laura's final home in Mansfield, Missouri, while researching her upcoming book The Wilder Life.  I'd be totally fine with starting in Wisconsin this summer and working my way west, because that's just the kind of geek I am. I already feel like I've been there, knowing these books as well as I do - this would just bring it all nicely full circle.

What would you bring? Where would you go?

(Image from Ingalls-Wilder archives.)  

Related road reading: 

Catherine Pond of the Cupcake Chronicles connected with Wendy in Missouri, and Wendy's shots of the real "little house on the prairie" in Independence, Kansas

Violet Crush's reflections on Island of the Blue Dolphins, with pictures. 

Road Trip Book Reviews from RoadtripAmerica.com.

A road trip through literary New England, from Sheri at Roadtripsforfamilies.com.

Jessica Coleman of Both Eyes Book Blog writes about reading The Willoughbys with her family as part of their "new tradition" of reading during road trips.

Beyond this continent, Michelle at Fluttering Butterflies gives a literary tour of her home county of Berkshire, United Kingdom. (Here's your Jane Austen fix if you'd like one.) E-How posted How to Take a Literary Tour of Britain

Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites

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