The best books about following the open road to discover America

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

The Books I Picked & Why

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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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My Antonia

By Willa Cather

Book cover of My Antonia

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.


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