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Road Trip Reading, Before Getting in the Car

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With summer comes road trips. And with road trips come self-discovery, tormented relationships, and the search for the "real America" in gas stations and roadside stands — all perfect fodder for the next great American novel. With the Beat generation's On the Road as their scripture, writers have been on figurative and literal journeys of self-discovery for generations.

Here are some road trip–themed stories, books, and shows to get you started on your own soul-searching adventure. 


David Lipsky just released his memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. Lipsky spent five days traveling with David Foster Wallace for a Rolling Stone profile. The memoir follows Foster Wallace as he researches his epic novel Infinite Jest and centers around Lipsky’s self discovery on the road


Lipsky told Leonard Lopate that getting along with David Foster Wallace was pretty difficult at first:

At the beginning of the book we were having a disagreement about whether fiction with a great narrative is realistic. He felt that it’s not. He felt that what the experience of life really is about 500,000 bits of information coming at you a day and you have to somehow pick in that incredible flux 25 that matter. And so I kind of disagreed with what he was saying and he looked at me and said, “I’m not sure whether you’re a very nice man or not.”

Listen to David Lipsky on The Leonard Lopate Show.

Peter Hessler, the Beijing correspondent for The New York Times, is a seasoned reporter who spent seven years on the road in China. His book, Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory, details his travels in a country where driving is “directed chaos,” according to Hessler. To get his driver’s license, the author had to answer questions like the one below.

If another motorist stops you to ask directions you should:
a. Not tell him

b. Reply patiently and accurately   
c. Tell him the wrong way

Listen to Peter Hessler on The Leonard Lopate Show.

A recent episode of Selected Shorts features two stories about self-enlightenment discovered on family road trips. The first, “Twenty Grand,” by Rebecca Curtis, is the tale of a mother who takes her two daughters to visit their father at an army bunker. The prodigal mother has spent every last cent her husband has given her, except for one coin, which belonged to her own mother. She passes a toll booth on her way to visit her husband and is forced to spend her mother's coin, which turned out to be a worse idea than she could have imagined.

A cave opened its mouth in my heart. I knew what 20 grand was. I also knew what a google, the largest number in the world was, one hundred zeros, but 20 grand seemed better than that. I saw a lifetime of unshared happy meals and always getting a soda with dinner at Ye Olde Tavern restaurant.

Listen to the episode of Selected Shorts here.

Of course, radio is always a necessity on the road. A particularly travel-worthy episode of This American Life originally aired in 1998. One of the stories is about a man named Dishwater Pete, an avid Greyhound fan. While traveling from one city to another, Pete continually attracts mythical Greyhound creatures with sometimes unbelievable stories. When he hops on Greyhound to find people for a radio show, however, he finds that he doesn't fit in as well with the old Greyhound crew.

Listen to the episode of This American Life here.