Posted by: Sarah | June 28, 2009

Road Trip Reading

While skimming the news of the day on NPR’s website, I came across Sarah Dessen’s column, “Books to Keep You Sane on a Family Road Trip,” and I couldn’t help but smile. Oh, the infamous family road trip. Just about every red-blooded American has a childhood tale to tell, and I found it amusing that Dessen’s description so closely mirrored my own.

For me and my brothers, there were two traditional road trips: visiting my stateside grandparents and beach trips. Visiting the grandparents was an 8-hour haul from Maryland to Ohio; drives down to Virginia Beach were half that. My parents + three kids + one black lab + a four-door sedan (this was before they upgraded to the big, blue Aerostar mini). As you can imagine, it was tight.

My parents strategically placed my youngest brother Andrew’s car seat in the middle of the back row to prevent me and my brother Jason from killing each other during the ride. Wise, indeed. However, this left us with marginal room on either side, so that you had to sit with shoulder slightly askew, never parallel, to the seat. It would’ve been easier and far more comfortable to sit with our backs to the window/door; but my dad, being the Eagle Scout safety inspector, planted the fear of death in us if we ever did so…for surely the car door would unlatch, swing open, and catapult us to a painful end on the dirty highway, despite our safety belts.  What a tragedy! (To this day, I’m careful not to lean on the car door and my stomach squirms when I see others doing it. Thanks, Dad.)

To make time pass and to keep Jason and me from thinking up ways to pinch each other across the car seat, my mom would often play story tapes. I have fond memories of listening to excerpts of The Jungle Book and Peter Pan while watching mile markers fly by on the highway. Of course, after I learned to read, I carefully chose my own road trip adventures from the library.

I distinctly remember one night drive when I was ten. I had to lean between my parents in the front seats to read by the overhead light. My dad complained the light made it hard to see the road; my mom told me it was late and I should go to sleep; but no, I was at the last chapter of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and had to see how the story ended. The late hour and neon glow of the interior car consoles only made the reading more magical—made my memory of it magical. I don’t recall where we were going to or coming from that trip, but I’ll never forget Claudia Kincaid and what I imagined The Met was like after closing.

As an adult, I now read more while traveling than any other time. On planes, I’m the lady with her nose so lost in my book that the beverage cart is a mere interruption. On trains, I read as fast as the passing scenery. On car rides, I make sure the running time of my book(s) on tape goes from the minute I start the engine to the minute I park (minus half an hour for bathroom breaks). It might sound odd, but there’s a feeling of dual accomplishment. You’ve both physically and mentally completed a journey.

In July, my husband and I are going to Spain. It’ll take over 24 hours each way, and I’ll be gone nearly two weeks. While I should be organizing a list of clothing and essentials to pack, I’m not. Not yet. First and foremost, I’m thinking of books to bring. The reading anticipation has me giddy. So many new characters to meet, places to see, cultures to experience–and that’s before I even touch down!

So I thought I’d take Dessen’s lead and give three book suggestions for travel reading. (Note: Limiting myself to three is arduous. I have dozens in mind.)

The Secret Garden

1) The Secret Garden by F.H. Burnett. Yes, this is a classic, but a classic you’ll enjoy reading again and again. Lose yourself in the secret garden and forget the pesky travel discomforts. I guarantee you’ll arrive at your destination rejuvenated and on the lookout for hidden doorways and secret passages of your own.

Traveling Mercies

2) Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. This is my nonfiction pick. Lamott has a wit and spirit that keeps you laughing and asking, “Did she really just say that?” It’s a book that consoles us that, yes, life is hard, but heaven is there to help.

The Kite Runner

3) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. An inspirational read for both men and women. (I thought I should be fair. Despite my adoration of little Mary Lenox, my husband would not be happy listening to The Secret Garden for five hours. So this one’s equal opportunity.) I love literature that teaches us about a culture, place and time outside our own. If you saw the movie, forget it. The book is 100 times better. It’s a thrilling, insightful and compelling read.

Okay, so I’m cheating and adding a 4th for shameless self-promotion.

The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico4) The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico by me-myself-&-I. If you’re traveling in August or for Labor Day, you can pick up my book on August 11. Never mind the cramped airplane and sticky car—be refreshed with an escape to the Caribbean! I can’t wait for you to explore the island and meet all my characters.

Enjoy and safe travels!

Yours truly, Sarah

To read Dessen’s NPR post:


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