Friday, December 08, 2006

Recommended Readings

Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of the coming holidays?  Need some help finding the perfect gift for that friend or family member who loves exploring the intriguing sights, sounds and tastes of the good ol’  USA?  Me too!... Of course, I hope you’ll give all your loved ones a copy of my new! all color!!  truly nifty Road Trip USA , but if you want some more ideas for the perfect gift, here are a dozen or so of my favorite road-related books, all just a click or two away.

American Diner: Then and Now, by Richard J. S. Gutman. Lushly illustrated, encyclopedic history of that great American roadside institution, from its humble beginnings in the lunch wagons of the late 1880s to the streamlined stainless-steel models so beloved by art directors everywhere.

Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back, by Jane Holtz Kay. An enthusiastic and informative account of how cars, and the commuter culture they’ve spawned, have sapped the strength of the nation’s communities. Not as histrionic as the title might make you think, this is an engaging and insightful book that aims to help us cut down on the eight billion annual hours Americans spend stuck in traffic.

Baseball Vacations, by Bruce Adams and Margaret Engel. Enjoyable and informative travel guide detailing the best minor and major league baseball parks in the country, with details on the teams and well-chosen suggestions of places to eat and sleep in 75 different cities and towns; professional teams are included. Baseball fanatics should also pick up a copy of the annual Baseball America Directory, which gives details of every major and minor league, professional and semi-pro team in the U.S. and Canada.

Blue Highways: A Journey Into America, by William Least Heat Moon. One of the best-selling travel books ever written, this intensely personal yet openhearted tale traces the path of a part-Indian, part-time English teacher who travels the back roads “in search of places where change did not mean ruin and where time and men and deeds connected.”

Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol along the American Highway, by Karal Ann Marling. If you’re interested in the stories behind America’s many roadside giants--Paul Bunyan statues, super-sized fruits and vegetables, and myriad concrete dinosaurs--you’ll love this informative and funny study. Packed with pictures but a little lacking in details on how to find these giant figures in the flesh, it’s bound to inspire more than a few road trip detours.

Confederates in the Attic, by Tony Horowitz.  Much more than the title implies, this energetic romp of a book explores the many, often contradictory, layers of meaning carried by our historic sites, monuments and celebrations.  

Elvis Presley Boulevard: From Sea to Shining Sea, Almost, by Mark Winegardner. An energetic mix of road trip journal and coming-of-age autobiography, this short book recounts a summer-long tour around the southern and central United States. The Elvis obsession hinted at by the title is only a small part of the book, which looks at many of the odder corners of America.

Flattened Fauna: A Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Street and Highways, by Roger M. Knutson. Lighthearted look at that under-studied ecosystem, the highway. Besides being a helpful guide to identifying the sundry dead objects along the roadside, the book also details the natural life and habitats of the unfortunate road-killed creatures.

Great Plains, by Ian Frazier. In-depth, top-to-bottom study of the wide-open land where the buffalo roamed, tracing historical themes like water, cowboys, and Indians, while capturing the contemporary scene.

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, by Bill Bryson. Iowa-born British expat transplant returns to America in search of material for his sarcastic commentary on contemporary life. Hilariously funny in parts, mean-spirited in others, and packed with trivial truths about life in the land of liberty.

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac.  This wild ramble of a road story inspired a generation or two to hightail it along America’s highways in the tracks of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. Fascinating for its adventures, and for Kerouac’s depictions of pre-Interstate America, when cars were still exciting and steam trains still rode the rails.

Out West: American Journey Along the Lewis and Clark Trail, by Dayton Duncan. The best travel book since Blue Highways, this marvelous tale retraces the route blazed by the Corps of Discovery on their epic adventure. With a combination of concise history lessons, captivating storytelling, and wry humor, Duncan vividly points out what has and hasn’t changed in the 200-odd years since the captains first trekked across the country and back.

by Jane and Michael Stern. The latest version of the cross-country
compendium of All-American diners, drive-ins, lobster shacks, and BBQ
stands, put together by road food experts and Gourmet magazine

Roadside America, by Doug Kirby et al. The best guidebook to the wackiest and weirdest attractions along the Great American Roadside. Organized by theme rather than by location, but still an entertaining and agreeable travel companion.  For updates, check their website:

Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck. Rambling around “this monster of a land” in his camper Rocinante, accompanied only by his eponymous French poodle, Steinbeck returns to his California haunts from self-imposed exile in New York to find that, even if you can’t go home again, there are many intriguing things along the way. One of my favorite books, period.

Happy Holidaze!  


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