A FEW DAYS AGO I was sitting in a café in Brixton with my good friend Skinner. It was a hot, lazy day. The sun was beating on the side of the road and everything was moving in slo-mo. The waitress stopped by our table and lethargically put down our drinks. Skinner was just about to take a sip when his face crumpled and he started shaking his head. “Do you hear that?”
He cocked his head towards the speakers.
“What is it?”
“It’s a road song. Whenever I hear it or start humming it I know it’s time to pack a bag. And hit the road.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, man. Books are worse. I have some I have to keep under lock and key. If I start reading them, that’s it. I’m gone. I have about five or six.” He started to rattle them off but I wasn’t listening. I was deep in thought….
1. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
Before I read Kerouac, I didn’t even know there was a Road. Let alone people crazy enough to pack a bag and head off on a whim, just to see what was out there. A trip for me when I was a kid was a family outing to the beach in summer. After I read On The Road as teenager, I started hitchhiking. Suddenly life became an adventure and the world seemed bigger, more exciting. Drivers in other cars weren’t just people on the way to the sea anymore, if they picked me up, our stories could become enmeshed.
2. Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck
My natural state is: hermit. I can quite happily lock myself away, look out the window and make up stories about what’s going on outside. My friends and my wife know this and do their best to drag me outside. After reading Travels with Charley I figured if John Steinbeck needs to go out to see what’s going on in the world around him, it’s time I packed a bag, unlocked the door and started talking to the people that really make up the place where I live. No other book inspires me more to connect with my own country, or anywhere else I find myself.
3. Travels with My Aunt – Graham Greene
Somehow, despite the reading and the traveling, I still found myself stifled in a shirt and tie, on the 8:15 from Tulse Hill to Faringdon, crammed next to what Skinner calls ‘the Grey Theys’, headed towards my little office cubicle on Old Street. As I sat squeezed into the window with Graham Greene in my hands, I felt like it was my life zipping past outside. My aunts are cool, but it was Aunt Augusta that dragged me away from the dahlias and reminded me there was more to life than the 9 to 5. There are many reasons why I quit that job, and My Aunt was no innocent bystander.
4. Green Hills of Africa – Ernest Hemingway
In Green Hills Hemingway leaves his short, staccato lyrical jabs in favor of long looping rights of descriptive prose. As he chases game across the Serengeti savannah, I feel like I’m right by his side. The afternoon sun beating on my neck, the dust in my throat, the fear and sweat of the wounded kudu. I want to sit on the mesa drinking beer and watching the sunset, talking books and writers. To me it’s a book of joy. The joy of the hunt, of drinking, of writing and writers, and an ode to the joy of life.
5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
To think Fear and Loathing is about the drugs is to miss the point. It’s about the freedom of the road and to take whatever you find on your own terms, wrestle it to the ground, and roll around with it until it makes sense. Every time I read Fear and Loathing, I’m gripped by the urge to jump in a fireapple red convertible and blast out across the wide-open road, howling with joy at the huge sky. In the right hands, the drugs just make it funnier.
Skinner was eyeing me with a strange look. “It’s the words. They’re like magic, right? Each one is the distillation of the essence of every scene, of every smell, of every conversation, so that they paint an image more powerful and real than what was really there. Right?”
I want to get away
I wanna fly away — Lenny Kravitz