The best road novels of all time

Joseph Ridgwell Author Of Burrito Deluxe
By Joseph Ridgwell

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with travel and novels that feature travel in the narrative since my early teens. A near-death experience at the age of nineteen, forced me to confront my own limited life experiences and encouraged me to travel the globe and see some of the world we live in before it was too late, as there’s nothing worse than too late. Also growing up on an inner city council estate instilled a desire to escape the urban environment and international travel and travel writing satisfied those compelling urges.

I wrote...

Burrito Deluxe

By Joseph Ridgwell,

Book cover of Burrito Deluxe

What is my book about?

From the mean streets of East London to the intoxicating thoroughfares of Mexico City, emerges a tale of two young men disconnecting from all forms of technology and society at large in a mad chase for freedom. Set in London and Mexico, the novel chronicles the end of youth and idealism and a total rejection of the modern world.

Burrito Deluxe tells of drunkenness, East End underworld escapades, trips to sacred Mayan temples, psychedelic peyote visions, hippy lifestyles, romantic liaisons, and the search for the legendary Lost Elation at the mystical Beach of the Dead. Burrito Deluxe is a Joseph Ridgwell special—the true story of two young men in search of freedom and adventure, but finding nothing but lies, dreams, insanity, and death.

The books I picked & why

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On the Road

By Jack Kerouac,

Book cover of On the Road

Why this book?

On the Road by King of the Beats—Jack Kerouac—is where it all began for me. Looking for ways to escape the dreary inner-city council estate I grew up on, books such as, On the Road, served to both inspire me and satisfy the need for escapism in my life. I read this great book when I was fifteen, and saying that it changed my life is an understatement! Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise crisscrossing America on endless car journeys, with some of the best topographical writing you’ll ever read. These epic trips conjured up enticing images that encouraged me to firstly, travel, and secondly to then write about my own experiences on the road.

The Road to Los Angeles

By John Fante,

Book cover of The Road to Los Angeles

Why this book?

First up in Fante’s famous quartet of Bandini novels—The Road to Los Angeles is a literary—Tour De Force. The central narrator—Arturo Bandini—is stuck out in Boulder Colorado, where it is freezing cold, and nothing ever happens. Not surprisingly a young Arturo is keen to escape to warmer climes, and pursue a writing career in Hollywood. Immediately I could relate to the books central idea, as I was keen to do exactly the same at exactly the same age, albeit on the other side of the world. This novel introduces Fante's alter ego Arturo Bandini who reappears in Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938), Ask the Dust (1939), and Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982). It’s an important first novel by an important American author.

Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black

By Cookie Mueller,

Book cover of Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black

Why this book?

This is a collection of short stories by John Waters bit-part actress—Cookie Mueller. Most of the well-crafted stories in this cult classic are autobiographical, and most feature the author’s travels around America and Europe, and the rest of the world. Cookie has a unique literary voice, and reading her stories it’s like you are actually getting to know the author personally. Criminally out of print for many years, this excellent book was recently re-published in the UK by Canongate. Unfortunately, Cookie died at the tender age of 40, and so was unable to fulfill her undoubted potential. 

The Astonished Man

By Blaise Cendrars,

Book cover of The Astonished Man

Why this book?

Reading Balise Cendrars—The Astonished Manis like stepping into another universe, so strange, exotic, and weird are the tales he has to tell. Once again, travel and adventure are the main themes. But what’s real and what is unreal is almost impossible to tell as the author constantly blurs fact with fiction. There are tales of how he lost an arm, encounters with Mexican millionaires, gypsies, a stint in the French Foreign Legion, and vivid exploits in South America and Africa. The fact that this great writer is not better known is a constant source of bafflement, for his prose is dazzling, thought-provoking, and illuminating!

Off the Road

By Carolyn Cassady,

Book cover of Off the Road

Why this book?

Although not a book about travel I feel this book fits the list, as it is essentially an extended love letter to both Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady, who at certain stages in her life, were the lovers of the author. What this book also describes is how people who decide to stay at home, while their lovers and friends embark on endless road trips, survive the ordinary hardships of day-to-day living. The book is incredibly insightful and sheds new light on the lives of the aforementioned famous Beat Generation authors. It also warns that the perils of living in the moment, fast time, no responsibilities, does not always lead to a long and happy life. As I discovered during my own extensive travels, if you stay on the road too long, you might not be able to find your way home.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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