Road Reads

Satisfy your wanderlust with tales of travel and faraway places

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

I’ve done things. Some good; some perhaps less so. But one thing I did when younger that still brings shameless joy to my heart was to crisscross the country by car, by train, on foot. Those travels, almost always begun in July, inform my understanding of the American environment and remind me of the need to take risks, to get out. It’s hard to find the time for a three-month jaunt through the backroads and byways, but longing for something is another reason to live. Here are some new books, published this month, to nurture your desire to move around.

July 3: Flash: Don’t Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip, by Richard Ratay (Scribner, $27). In the days before cheap air travel, families didn’t so much take vacations as survive them. Between home and destination lay thousands of miles and dozens of annoyances, and with his family Richard Ratay experienced all of them — from being crowded into the backseat with noogie-happy older brothers, to picking out a souvenir only to find that a better one might have been had at the next attraction, to dealing with a dad who didn’t believe in bathroom breaks.

July 3: Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity, by Michael Kinch (Pegasus Books, $27.95). Vaccines are part of world travel, but watch out for those communities that have created new pockets of old diseases. This book is a smart and compelling examination of the science of immunity, the public policy implications of vaccine denial, and the real-world outcomes of failing to vaccinate.

July 3: The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West, by John F. Ross (Viking, $30). “John Wesley Powell was not just a great explorer — he was the great prophet of the arid West whose vision is now coming true in a dusty era of drought and wildfire. This book reminds us to pay attention to savvy people, not to our preferred dreams and delusions — in that sense it couldn’t be more timely.” — Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature.

July 10: Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont, by Saul Austerlitz (Thomas Dunne, $27.99). Travel to your favorite summer music festival with joy in your heart, but remember this: The Hell’s Angels are not any one’s idea of an appropriate security system.

July 10: The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen (Doubleday, $26.95). “In The Last Cruise Kate Christensen has given us a smart literary thriller whose ambitions extend well beyond its genre. It’s terrifying in ways you don’t expect.” — Richard Russo, author of Nobody’s Fool and Empire Falls. I always knew that cruises were a nightmare waiting to happen! Stick to the roads.

July 17: Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk, by John Lingan (Houghton-Mifflin, $27).  In the tradition of Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting With Jesus and J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, an intimate account of social change, country music and a vanishing way of life as a Shenandoah town collides with the 21st century.

July 24: Driven: A White-Knuckled Ride to Heartbreak and Back, by Melissa Stephenson (Houghton-Mifflin, $23). “With a searing honesty, Melissa Stephenson examines the decisions of her life and the often unexpected consequence. Driven races through time like one of the many automobiles she drives, repairs and loves. Ultimately, she loves literature more, and this book is the grand and glorious result.” — Chris Offutt, author of Country Dark.

July 24: The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places, by William Atkins (Doubleday, $28.95). In the classic literary tradition of Bruce Chatwin and Geoff Dyer, a rich and exquisitely written account of travels in six deserts on five continents that evokes the timeless allure of these remote and forbidding places. OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

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