The best books channeling the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

Why am I passionate about this?

Traveling, meeting people, hearing stories, learning about places and landscapes—this is what my writing is all about. Sometimes it takes the form of nonfiction, sometimes poetry. I’ve had a wandering spirit from early on, finding joy and wonder as a child while sitting in the backseat on road trips, or taking the bus cross-state, or (best of all) riding on a train going anywhere. Reading Kerouac’s On the Road brought everything together: heading out with no particular destination in mind other than finding oneself on the road. And then writing it all down, telling the story. Here are some books that have rekindled the Kerouac spirit for me.


I wrote...

Topographies

By Stephen Benz,

Book cover of Topographies

What is my book about?

A wild ride on the madcap streets of Guatemala City. A twilight walk through old Havana with a Cuban mailman. A canoe trip in search of a lost grave in the Everglades. A late-night visit to a border-town casino. A tour of an outdated factory in a post-Soviet backwater. These are some of the experiences that the wide-ranging essays in Topographies describe. Originally published in newspapers, magazines, and journals such as The Miami Herald and Washington Post, these travel essays eloquently inform and entertain armchair travelers and general-interest readers who appreciate learning about little-known historical events and encountering unusual characters.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Blue Highways

Stephen Benz Why did I love this book?

Ah, the lure of the back roads, the unbeaten paths, the “blue highways”—to use the term popularized by William Least Heat-Moon in his stirring, soulful travel book of that name. From the first pages, I heard the song of the open road as I read, and the music didn’t stop until the last paragraph. Kerouac’s novel was published the year before I was born. Least Heat-Moon’s book appeared a quarter-century later, when I was a young man yearning to find myself on the open road. Blue Highways was cathartic: it showed me that a journey on America’s back roads—and a book about that journey—was still possible in an America that had changed significantly since Kerouac’s time.

By William Least Heat-Moon,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Blue Highways as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is an unforgettable journey along our nation's backroads.
William Least Heat-Moon set out with little more than the need to put home behind him and a sense of curiosity about "those little towns that get on the map -- if they get on at all -- only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon; Simplicity, Virginia; New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi."
His adventures, his discoveries, and his recollections of the extraordinary people he encountered along the way amount to a revelation…


Book cover of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Stephen Benz Why did I love this book?

Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was first published when I was a teenager. I was aware of the book’s unforeseen popularity and countercultural reputation, but it proved too daunting for me at the time. I read it years later, after I had read Blue Highways, and was immediately enthralled with the road trip dimension of the book (Pirsig travels from Minneapolis to San Francisco on his motorcycle, accompanied by his son and some friends—not on the same motorcycle, of course). It’s a compelling journey across the austerely beautiful northern tier of the American West; it’s also a darker journey into the narrator’s troubled past. Much of the book is given to philosophical inquiry—an intellectual trip that’s just as compelling as the physical journey.

By Robert M. Pirsig,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in the history of American letters, this modern epic became an instant bestseller upon publication in 1974, transforming a generation and continuing to inspire millions. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. Resonant with the confusions of existence, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a touching and transcendent book of life.


Book cover of The Road

Stephen Benz Why did I love this book?

Jack London lived and died before Kerouac was born, so it’s more accurate to say that On the Road channels the spirit of London’s book, published some 50 years before Kerouac’s masterpiece. The Road is a compelling memoir about tramping across the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. London anticipates Kerouac’s bohemian spirit as he rides the rails with vagabonds, hoboes, and tramps (as London explains, there’s a difference among them). To my mind, The Road is an underappreciated American classic, poetically evoking that quintessential American characteristic, restlessness—the deep-seated desire to “follow the breeze.” Fifty years later, Kerouac stuck out his thumb and followed in London’s footsteps.

By Jack London,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I went on 'The Road' because I couldn't keep away from it; because I hadn't the price of the railroad fare in my jeans; because I was so made that I couldn't work all my life on 'one same shift'; because — well, just because it was easier to than not to."
Jack London's "road" is the railroad, and these reminiscences paint a vivid portrait of life in the United States during the major economic depression of the 1890s. His compelling adventures include a month-long detention in a state penitentiary for vagrancy, as well as his travels with Kelly's Army,…


Book cover of Into the Wild

Stephen Benz Why did I love this book?

Perhaps no one—including Kerouac—embodies this characteristic restlessness more purely than Chris McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. McCandless’s story has captured the imagination of legions of readers, myself included (not everyone is on board; there are those who consider McCandless a fool). I’m sure I’m not the only one who read the book in one sitting, unable to set it down. What’s so mesmerizing about McCandless’s story, for those who can’t resist it, is his utter belief (saintly in its way) that the physical journey is in fact a quest, a kind of soul-searching that leads to enlightenment. That his journey ends badly somehow seems to validate his belief. McCandless dared to go to the limits, even if it meant there was no return.

By Jon Krakauer,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Into the Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Krakauer’s page-turning bestseller explores a famed missing person mystery while unraveling the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.

"Terrifying... Eloquent... A heart-rending drama of human yearning." —New York Times

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all…


Book cover of Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes

Stephen Benz Why did I love this book?

Curiosity about hobo life led Ted Conover to drop everything and ride the rails for a spell. What he learned became the basis of his first book, Rolling Nowhere. It’s filled with the things I love best about these books: fascinating characters, indelible scenes, and movement through landscapes both sublime and gritty. On every page, there’s a reminder of Kerouac and London. Reading it, I am filled with longing, the urge for going, wanderlust. I’m older now; I’ve done my share of traveling and written about it, too. But maybe I’m not totally done with it: a half-mile from my comfortable house, my street intersects with the road out of town, the city limits sign visible in the distance. And beyond: desert, wide sky, open road. A boundless dreamland.

By Ted Conover,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rolling Nowhere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hopping a freight in the St. Louis rail yards, Ted Conover—winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award—embarks on his dream trip, traveling the rails with “the knights of the road.” Equipped with rummage store clothing, a bedroll, and his notebooks, Conover immerses himself in the peculiar culture of the hobo, where handshakes and intoductions are foreign, but where everyone knows where the Sally (Salvation Army) and the Willy (Goodwill) are. Along the way he encounters unexpected charity (a former cop goes out of his way to offer Conover a dollar) and indignities (what do you do when there are…


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What You Do To Me: A Novel

By Rochelle B. Weinstein,

Book cover of What You Do To Me: A Novel

Rochelle B. Weinstein Author Of When We Let Go

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Not only am I the author of seven women’s fiction novels, I’m a voracious reader who believes she was raised by Judy Blume and Sidney Sheldon. In our broken home, reading was an escape, a salve for the wound, a place where I felt heard and understood. My novels touch on deep emotions—real and relatable. If I don’t capture that feeling when I’m reading through my drafts, I dig deeper. And that’s the thing about a great book, that gut punch, that slide under my skin, I get you. There’s no better read than the one that pulls the heartstrings and gives you all the feels.    

Rochelle's book list on tugging on every one of your heartstrings

What is my book about?

What You Do To Me follows Rolling Stone reporter Cecilia James on the hunt to find the muse behind a famous love song, all while managing an estranged relationship with her father and boyfriend Pete.

Inspired by Hey There Deliah, the dual timeline stretches across the sunny beaches of 1970s Miami with star-crossed lovers Eddie and Sara, to the glittery music industry of 1990s LA. For music lovers and fans of that first, unforgettable love, What You Do To Me is the story of a love song with equal parts heart and harmony.

What You Do To Me: A Novel

By Rochelle B. Weinstein,

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends comes a moving novel of two unfinished love stories and the music and lyrics that bring them together.

Journalist Cecilia James is a sucker for a love song. So when she stumbles across a clue to the identity of the muse for one of rock’s greatest, she devotes herself to uncovering the truth, even as her own relationship is falling apart.

While writing an article for Rolling Stone, Cecilia works to reveal the mystery that has intrigued fans and discovers a classic tale of two soulmates separated by fate and circumstance. Rock…


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