Well, Stasha’s topic for the week is “roads,” but I’m going to swerve away from it (yes, that’s a road pun, right there in the first sentence). I’ve written about driving a lot, it seems, maybe because I am doing a lot of driving, so I took “road” and went somewhere else.
I went to books. Makes sense, in a way, because when I was young and we were preparing for our annual drive from Illinois to northern Michigan–a drive of about ten or twelve hours, which my mom would do alone (dad was always wherever dads were, in the summer in the 1970s), except for us three banshee children in the “way-back” of the huge yellow station wagon. We would caravan with aunts and uncles, stopping always in Alma, Michigan, at Bob’s Big Boy Burger. Can you believe? A multi-family caravan and no cell phones. My prep for the trip basically involved being taken to the book store and told to buy the fattest book I could find. I read ridiculously fast, and if we didn’t get a BIG book, I’d finish somewhere in mid-Michigan and then I’d have nothing to do for five more hours other than torment my siblings. And after three hours, even sibling torment got dull.
So. Novels and a poem, all road reads.
1. “The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost. You probably read this poem in high school or junior school and was all blah blah blah road not taken whatever. Trust me. Read it again, now that you’ve actually had to choose between two roads, diverging. Then maybe take a break and read more Frost. He’s bleak and beautiful and brilliant.
2. On the Road – Jack Kerouac. Defined a generation; broke all the rules; set kids everywhere on the highway with thumbs outstretched on their way to…somewhere else.
3. The Road – Cormac McCarthy. A very different road, through a post-apocalyptic landscape that has nothing to do with “Mad Max” or Katniss Everdeen. Even seeing Viggo Mortensen in the movie version of this novel can’t lessen the violent heartbreak of this story of a father and his son.
4. Peachtree Road – Anne Rivers Siddons. Okay, maybe it’s not “high literature,” but Siddons always tells great stories about families and relationships–and houses. This novel is set in the historic Atlanta neighborhood and blends history and social commentary into fabulous escapist story-telling. Get it for the beach this summer…
5. The Road to Oz – L. Frank Baum. Dorothy and her friends, old and new, set out on new adventures across the magical land of Oz. A fabulous read-aloud, especially if you find an edition that includes the original illustrations.
6. Road from Coorain – Jill Kerr Conway. Conway’s story takes her from an outback sheep farm in Australia to Sydney to the presidency of Smith College (the first female president of a woman’s college!), to a professorship at MIT. It’s quite a journey – it’s one of those books that if you read it electronically, you’re going to want to buy it in actual print.
7. Purple Cane Road – James Lee Burke. Another in a series of Burke’s great detective novels, featuring Dave Robicheaux, and set in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. These detective stories transcend the genre–they’re soulful, funny, suspenseful.
8. Tobacco Road – Erskine Caldwell. A American classic, from 1932, about racism, class, sex, and family. It will make you uncomfortable to read this novel, but it also manages to be bleakly funny.
9. Ghost Road – Pat Barker. The concluding novel of a trilogy that started with Regeneration and The Eye in the Door. These novels give an amazing portrait of life in England during World War I and include historical figures–like the doctor who was first to diagnose what we now think of as “post-traumatic stress disorder,” but he called hysteria. The lives of soldiers and the people they love come together with politics and history in a way that will make you cry. Pat Barker won the Booker Prize for this novel.
10. Dust Tracks on a Road – Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston’s autobiography, which is as interesting for what she includes as for what she leaves out. If you’ve ever read Their Eyes Are Watching God, you should read Hurston’s account of her life (and if you’ve not read Eyes, you really should get busy).
What would be on YOUR list of “road” books?