The best books about following the open road to discover America

M.M. Holaday Author Of The Open Road
By M.M. Holaday

Who am I?

I grew up a fan of an evening news segment called “On the Road with Charles Kuralt.” Kuralt spotlighted upbeat, affirmative, sometimes nostalgic stories of people and places he discovered as he traveled across the American landscape. The charming stories he told were only part of the appeal; the freedom and adventure of being on the open road ignited a spark that continues to smolder. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are our annual family road trips, and I still jump at the chance to drive across the country.


I wrote...

The Open Road

By M.M. Holaday,

Book cover of The Open Road

What is my book about?

Set in the American West in the second half of the 19th century, Win, a wandering free-spirit, persuades his best friend to head west with him to see the frontier before it disappears. They meet Meg, the female embodiment of Win’s own inner conflict between place and restlessness. As the friends seek adventure and find love on the American frontier, there is irony in these adventurous souls looking for a place to call home.

The books I picked & why

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A Life on the Road

By Charles Kuralt,

Book cover of A Life on the Road

Why this book?

When I read the opening sentences of A Life on the Road by Charles Kuralt, the character of Win Avery in my own book was born in my imagination. Kuralt wrote: “There is no contentment on the road, and little enough fulfillment. I know that now. I am acquainted with people who live settled lives and find deep gratification in family and home. I know what I have missed...the generations together at the table, the pleasures of kinship, the rituals of the hearth. And still I wander, seeking compensation in unforeseen encounters and unexpected sights…No train leaves the station that I do not want to catch.” His words are as sad as they are thrilling and they move me every time I read them.


Out West: An American Journey

By Dayton Duncan,

Book cover of Out West: An American Journey

Why this book?

Duncan follows the route Lewis and Clark took as they headed up the Missouri River. He embarks on the trip several generations later and drives a camper, so he experiences a very different landscape from the early explorers. It doesn’t matter; while the book itself is thirty-five years old, his blend of history, traveler’s and camping advice, and personal encounters make this memoir insightful, funny, and poignant even now. For anyone who would prefer to take a road trip from the comfort of their favorite reading chair, this is a satisfying read.


Leaves of Grass

By Walt Whitman,

Book cover of Leaves of Grass

Why this book?

I can’t say I have a love for poetry, but Walt Whitman sure stirs the soul! "Song of the Open Road," one of the poems in the Leaves of Grass collection, is my favorite. His opening lines, “Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me” makes me want to lace up my shoes! But also, as many wanderers who are conflicted by the call of the open road and place to call home, the last lines of the poem capture that bittersweet tug: “Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?” Whitman captures the restlessness and longing of our American spirit.


All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West

By David Gessner,

Book cover of All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West

Why this book?

The physical journey as a metaphor for personal growth and enlightenment is no better accomplished than in this book on the environment. Gessner takes two very different authors, Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, and weaves their perspectives together as he embarks on his own trip through their worlds and through his own American West. Highly educational in a style that is lively and readable.


My Ántonia

By Willa Cather,

Book cover of My Ántonia

Why this book?

I love this book for many reasons: the friendship between Antonia and Jim that does not turn into romance but something much deeper; the setting on the sweeping plains and the sense of place it evokes; and the tenderness of Jim’s memories all make this quiet book so beautiful. After all the books about travel and wandering, this is an eloquent reminder of how important a sense of place is.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the American West, immigrants, and Walt Whitman?

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