8 Books That Will Spark Your Travel Bug
Looking for a few new options to add to your reading list? These eight books are as different as books can be—fiction, nonfiction and memoir, some hot off the press and some more than a century old. But they all have one thing in common: Each describes a place in the United States so vividly that you will want to go and visit for yourself. Spark your travel bug with this assortment of must-reads.
Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry
Acknowledging that his adopted state of Florida is sometimes portrayed as a “subtropical festival of stupid,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning author sets out to right the record. Like James Michener and Mark Twain before him, Barry starts way back with geology and moves forward.
“The first humans arrived in Florida twenty thousand years ago, having crossed the land bridge from Asia and made the arduous trek across North America in search of Spring Break,” he writes. Readers may not be able to rely on the author for entirely accurate facts. What they can rely on him for are laughs.
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
The Mississippi River meant a lot to Mark Twain. He grew up on its banks, took his pen name from a phrase used by boatmen, and set a great American novel, Huckleberry Finn, there. Life on the Mississippi is a rambling tale but consistently engaging — part memoir, part history, part travelogue, with the master’s trademark humor and tall tales.
Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath author was 58 and in poor health when he took a road trip with his wife’s poodle, Charley. In 75 days and 10,000 miles—from Maine, to Yellowstone, to California and the Deep South—he encountered scenes both joyful and heartbreaking.
Steinbeck’s sharp-eyed commentary about the U.S.A., including the fragile environment, still resonates. Rocinante, his camper, is on display at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif.
The Oregon Trail, A New American Journey by Rinker Buck
Sometimes a crazy idea just gets hold of you. That’s what happened to Rinker Buck at a museum in Kansas in 2013. Some 200,000 hardy 19th-century pioneers had traveled the 2,000 miles from Missouri to Oregon in covered wagons. Could the trip be repeated today?
Buck had a fox terrier named Olive Oyl instead of a poodle named Charley, but like Steinbeck, he traveled at a critical life juncture, in the process not only learning some history but also learning about himself.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
In this historical novel, two priests endeavor to clean up church corruption in the 19th-century American west. Based on real events, the book deals with big issues like the treatment of Native Americans but does so in a deceptively quiet and understated style. Many of the sights that figure in the story, among them the cathedral in Santa Fe, New Mexico, can still be visited today.
Centennial by James Michener
Can 20 million readers be wrong? Michener moved to northern Colorado to write this novel about the state’s history from way back — we are talking rock formation. The book may be doorstop size, but it moves fast, and the historical background is thoroughly researched. When Michener appeared before the Colorado legislature shortly after publication, they gave him a standing ovation.
Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant
A town called Pluto might seem plenty remote, but the London-born author and his girlfriend went one better—setting up housekeeping on an old plantation three miles beyond city limits. Over the course of a year they made friends with locals, who include one legendary blues musician, one Hollywood star and more than one catfish farmer.
They also learned to hunt, fish and shoot varmints. Without slighting persistent issues of race, the 2015 book describes a unique and little known part of America from the viewpoint of an appreciative, open-minded and curious outsider.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Now considered one of the greatest American mystery writers, Hammett was a private eye in San Francisco during the 1920s. In his best-known book, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 movie) investigates the murder of his partner and the disappearance of a priceless bird statue. Today’s San Francisco may be more tech than noir, but Sam Spade would still recognize the streets, the alleyways, the cable cars and the fog.
Whether you’re consigned to armchair traveling for now or— like Huck Finn — about to light out for the territory, any of these books makes a good companion.