Few experiences capture summer’s essence better than a road trip. Whether you’re covering as many miles as possible as quickly as possible, or you’re taking it slow on backroads, you’re going to need some entertainment. Sure, music can help, but the best audiobooks can really make the miles disappear. Here are a few classics to put on your must-listen list…
For the History Buff:
The Big Burn by Timothy Egan | 10 hours, 2 minutes
Timothy Egan’s gripping account of the worst forest fire in U.S. history is well worth the time. Egan centers his book on the 1910 fire, known as the “Great Burn” or the “Big Burn,” which raged for days across Montana, Idaho, and Washington, ultimately consuming three million acres of land and killing 87 people. But he also explores the political forces at play in early 20th century America, including the formation of the U.S. Forest Service, and the role its first chief, Gifford Pinchot, and America’s great conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt played in creating the system of public lands we have today. Click here to buy.
For the River Rat:
The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko | 17 hours, 23 minutes
In 1983, grizzled Grand Canyon River guide, Kenton Grua, clambered onto a wooden dory with two other men under the cover of midnight darkness. Their plan: catch the crest of a massive release of water from Glen Canyon Dam and rocket through the Grand Canyon, setting a new speed record. Thus begins the story that Kevin Fedarko deftly tells in this fascinating and road-mile-eating book about the Grand Canyon, river rafting, conservation, engineering, heroism, and adventure. Even if you’re not into paddling and know nothing about the Bureau of Reclamation, this book will entertain.
For the Misanthrope:
Into the Wild by John Krakauer | 7 hours, 9 minutes
Christopher McCandless’ story has become part legend, part myth, part inspirational adventure lore and part cautionary tale. Much of that has to do with Jon Krakauer’s well-researched and well-executed book that first put McCandless and his adopted bus on the map. While many may feel like they’ve come to know McCandless through the 2007 movie directed by Sean Penn, Krakauer’s book plumbs the depths of McCandless’ story in a way no film could. A masterful journalist, Krakauer writes with compassion and truth while exploring the motivations that drove McCandless to give away his possessions and travel to Alaska. However you end up feeling about Alexander Supertramp, it is impossible to argue that he didn’t commit entirely to his pursuit of freedom, self-discovery, and adventure. Click here to buy.
For the Runner:
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall | 11 hours, 9 minutes
I never thought I would care about the biomechanics of horse lungs or want to learn about the intricate engineering of the human foot. I also never thought I’d be inspired to run dozens of miles at once (I haven’t actually done it yet, but I really want to). But that was before I read Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. The title and subtitle pretty much detail what the book is about, but McDougall does a great job weaving together the various threads of this fascinating look into what makes humans the only animal that can run and run and run and run. Click here to buy.
For the Soul Searcher:
The River Why by David James Duncan | 15 hours, 18 minutes
In this coming-of-age novel, author David James Duncan explores the quest to find oneself through the misadventures of a young man obsessed with fly-fishing. Duncan expertly uses this premise to tackle humanity’s relationship with nature, how we find love and other universal truths while finding humor and comedy in the exploits of his young protagonist. Click here to buy.
For the Fun of It:
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins | 13 hours, 36 minutes
Tom Robbins’ novel about a woman born with freakishly large thumbs who becomes a hitchhiker is as wild, weird, offbeat and wonderful as a novel can get. If you’ve read Robbins’ work then you know what you’re in for. If you haven’t, buckle up because things are going to get strange. Weirdness aside, Robbins’ books pull you in from the first page and don’t let go. Spending 13 and a half hours in a car listening to this book might prove the best 13 and a half hours you’ve ever spent in a car. Or at least the the most weirdly entertaining. Click here to buy
For the English major:
On the Road by Jack Kerouac | 11 hours, 8 minutes
Arguably the first “modern” road trip book, Jack Kerouac’s generation-defining masterpiece is for anyone who’s ever hit the road in search of what this great country of ours has to offer. Inspired by Kerouac’s cross-country exploits with his friend Neal Casaday and more or less written in a single, stream-of-consciousness effort that has become legend among English majors, On the Road is a literary classic, a free-wheeling adventure narrative, and a tribute to America that remains relevant today. Click here to buy.
The crowd pleaser:
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling | Hours and hours
There’s a reason J.K. Rowling is one of the most successful novelists ever. Her richly imagined and expertly portrayed world of wizards, muggles, and magic is truly captivating. When I lived in an off-the-grid cabin in Alaska, I pulled the first Harry Potter book from the cabin’s bookshelf on a lark. It was there and I needed something to read. I was hooked from the first page and ended up reading the entire series (some of it on a road trip). If you have a mixed group of adults and kids in your car (or if you are literally driving across the country and back again), the Harry Potter series will pull you in, keep you entertained and leave you sitting in your car despite having just driven 10 hours because you don’t want to miss the next part. Kind of like magic. Click here to buy the first book.