Many stories involve journeys, of sorts. The teen rebel who comes-of-age and gets on track after setting-out down a rocky road. Characters in crisis who change paths and embark on journeys of self-discovery in later life. And a vast number of unforgettable stories - both on screen and on the page - centre around journeys in a literal sense, none more famous than Jack Kerouac’s 1957 classic On the Road. Sal and Dean’s hedonism and lust for life certainly set the beat for generations of literary road-trip adventures. Another - but very different - classic comes courtesy of Jules Verne’s continent-hopping Around the World in Eighty Days, a journey replicated by Michael Palin in recent years.
One of my favourite present-day novels happens to be a road-trip trailblazer - Neil Gaiman’s epic American Gods. It’s a dazzling feat of fiction that melds myth, magic and real-life drama to create a thrilling phantasmagorical commentary on contemporary America.
While road trips of both the movie and literary variety usually conjure images of open road, open top journeys across America, of red deserts framed by raging scarlet sunsets, and of raggedy rebellious youngsters finding their way in the world, some contemporary delights come from colder climes, and feature very different kinds of characters, like The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. This quirky, touching, Swedish rib-tickler sees the eponymous hundred-year-old man flee his retirement home and become embroiled in a criminal adventure, during which his pivotal role in key moments of twentieth-century history is revealed with witty hilarity.
Returning to America, mention must go to one of my top non-fiction books of the year, David Reynolds’s Slow Road to San Francisco. Documenting the author’s solo coast-to-coast road trip from America’s east to west coast, this is as enlightening on American history and politics as it is amusing and warm-spirited.
A host of Young Adult novels also take to the road to great effect, among them Emery Lord’s music-fuelled tale of rocky romance, Open Road Summer, John Green’s poignant Paper Towns and Kim Culbertston’s The Wonder of Us in which a protagonist teetering towards adulthood leaves California to take a lifechanging trip around Europe.
Without further ado, we invite you to buckle up before exploring our collection of road-trip reads – a sure-fire riveting ride lies ahead.