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7 Road Trip Books That Will Stoke Your Wanderlust

by Matador Creators Apr 20, 2017

MATADOR NETWORK Editors Matt Hershberger, Ana Bulnes, and Morgane Croissant selected 7 books that have made them want to get out and hit the open road.

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna

This is the story of Kaarlo Vatanen, a journalist who one day, after running into the woods chasing a young hare he and his photographer just hit with their car — to make sure the animal is okay — decides to just never come back. He quits his job, leaves his wife, sells his possessions and embarks on a hilarious journey across Finland and into the Soviet Union. He takes odd jobs here and there, gets drunk, fights fires and bears, gets in legal and political trouble and lives all kind of wild adventures, always accompanied by his new friend the little hare. A perfect book to read if you feel like walking away from your life and escaping civilization for a while, or if you’re just curious about hares as travel companions. –Ana Bulnes

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

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It is not too often that the two best horror writers of a generation team up. The 1984 Stephen King/Peter Straub collaboration The Talisman follows a young kid named Jack Sawyer whose former B-movie film star mother is slowly dying. He learns, with the help of a mysterious stranger, that he can “flip” between dimensions, and that, on the other side of the country, there is an object, a talisman, that can save his mother’s life. So he sets out on foot, flipping between the United States of the 1980’s and a fantasy land full of monsters and werewolves. It is strange and surreal and totally magical, and, like all great epics, it’ll make you want to have an adventure. –Matt Hershberger

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute by Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop

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Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar and his companion, translator Carol Dunlop, took the most unusual road trip on May ’82 — they drove from Paris to Marseille on their campervan (a.k.a. Fafner) and it took them a month. In case you’re not familiar with French geography — Paris and Marseille are only 490 miles apart. They had three self-imposed rules: they would never leave the freeway, they would stop at two rest stops each day, and they would stay overnight at the second one. Cortázar was very popular then and felt he no longer had time to just relax, write or do whatever he wanted to without having a journalist or editor calling to request an interview, an article or some support for some cause. This, living on the freeway for a month, was his way to escape all that. The book is many things — a travelogue, a sketchbook, a photo album, and ultimately a love letter to Dunlop, who was already sick at the time of the road trip and who would die before the book was finished. –Ana Bulnes

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

The Motorcycle Diaries is the definitive answer to the question, “Could a single trip ever change the world?” Che Guevara, the iconic Argentine communist revolutionary, was once a young middle class man in med school with a rickety motorcycle. He took a break from school with his friend Alberto Granado, and the two of them set off to explore the South American continent. The two did not come back the same people. They were staggered by the generosity of the people they met, and appalled at the divide between rich and poor. It is an incredible book, if for nothing else because the two friends go on a trip we’ve all been on and see things we’ve all seen. Regardless of what you think of who Guevara became later in life, it’s a staggering testament to the transformational power of travel. –Matt Hershberger

The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels by Freya Stark

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I imagine Freya Stark as some kind of female Indiana Jones. She traveled fearlessly all her life (just check this BBC documentary), and was the first Westerner (man or woman) to ever visit some parts of Iran. This book is a collection of her writings describing her experiences during those trips in the early 1930s — she traveled on her own, hiring local guides, and trusting the strangers who opened their houses (or tents) to her every night. While some of her actions are kind of questionable from a 21st century perspective (her archeology missions basically meant stealing), the writing is so beautiful and she’s so fearless, feminist and badass it’s impossible not to love her. And get your pencil ready to underline hundreds of quotes. An example? “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.” I might have clapped after reading that. –Ana Bulnes

Consolation of the Forest Sylvain Tesson

Consolations of the Forest is Sylvain Tesson’s account of his living alone in a remote cabin in Siberia for five months. This novel embraces entirely the idea of immersing yourself in a place and culture that are incredibly foreign with nothing but your own skills and critical judgement to survive. Tesson chose to live this very harsh lifestyle on the shore of Lake Baikal to experience the luxury that is time and space, but also to better understand the lives of those who call this incredible place home. His journey is one of a bold and fearless solo traveler and will inspire those who travel to better understand the human experience. –Morgane Croissant

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Later in his life, John Steinbeck realized it had been a long time since he had seen the country that he made his living writing about, and that maybe he didn’t understand who Americans really were anymore. So he bought an RV (which he named Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse), packed up his pet poodle, Charley, and set out across the country. Much of the book reads like a typical travelogue, with Steinbeck’s trademark philosophical meanderings popped in. But it’s where he spends time with other Americans that it gets incredible. His visit to the Ninth Ward of New Orleans shortly after the schools became integrated is particularly harrowing in its depiction of the naked racism of the time. The book is a reminder that we never really know the world — we don’t totally see how beautifully humans can behave, or how horrible they can be to each other. But travel has a way of giving us a glimpse into the world we thought we knew, ever-so-briefly removing the scales from our eyes. –Matt Hershberger

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