Books + Comics

Going the Distance

Books about the journey.

On the Road
Jack Kerouac
1959, Viking Compass
This is Kerouac’s completely enchanting chronicle of a young adulthood spent fascinated with the “mad to live” individuals he encounters during his explorations, whom he glorifies as creative saints. There’s a sense of melancholy in Kerouac’s language that hints at the “forlorn rags of growing old,” but he and his friends are fully delving into the highs of being young. Kerouac sought not only adventure, but also the unknown, mysterious, and wild aspects of humanity. His soulful and exhilarating account is a testament to the emotional and spiritual foundation of the Beat generation, always searching the universe for answers. On the Road is Kerouac’s everlasting quest to dig life and get his kicks, but also to uncover the holiness of being on a journey. –Dylan

Blue Highways: A Journey Into America
William Least Heat-Moon
1983, Little, Brown and Company

I tried reading On the Road half a dozen times in high school. It was a classic, a favorite–required reading for any self-respecting weirdo or punk. I knew I was supposed to love it, but I didn’t even like it, and I couldn’t quite figure out why until years later, when I read The Sex Revolts, and it talked about how no female character in the book speaks, how all the women have their words and actions filtered through the dudes in the story. On the Road is heavy bromance, and living in a patriarchy is enough of that for me. Those boys unleashing themselves on the world was not my dream of liberation. So it was my great pleasure a few years ago to come upon Blue Highways, a travelogue about getting lost deep in America that connected deeply and squarely with my feelings. It starts with a heartbreak: author William Least Heat-Moon gets dumped and decides he is going to drive around the country with his dog in a van, but only on what he calls the “blue highways”–back roads, essentially–rather than the interstate, with its chains and swift procession. He wanted to see small towns as they remained. He was taking this trip in 1979, the twilight of an era, just before Ronald Reagan would take office and bring about a huge cultural shift for the country, wherein life changed for the worse for a lot of poor people and women. Heat-Moon riffs big on this sense of a bygone America, sometimes with nostalgia, but just as often not. A scholar of early American history, he stops in places whose import has long been forgotten, tells the amazing and strange life stories of the people he meets along the way, talks about landscapes, recounts his boredom and loneliness, quotes Whitman. He’s utterly un-macho and vulnerable, in love with the world and saddened by it all the same. He’s an incredible writer, and this book makes you want to go out and get lost and meet people and eat pie and mourn an America you will never know. –Jessica

Michelle Tea
2000, Seal Press

There are tons of books out there that I feel are highly charged, influential, and even occasionally dangerous for someone to read in their late teens and early 20s. On the Road is one. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are two more. Books like these can give you the catalyst you need to start something and shape the path of your life FOREVER. Valencia by Michelle Tea falls deliciously into this same category. Michelle Tea is sometimes thought of as the Jack Kerouac of lesbians, but she is her own thing, and it is good. This is a memoir that chronicles one year in the author’s life when she lived in the Mission District in San Francisco in the ’90s and, oh my god, is it interesting. She does drugs, she falls in love with girls so hard it hurts, she works as a prostitute, she drinks and smokes and cries and has lots and lots of sex, and it’s all told in this wonderful, rambling stream-of-consciousness that is so real, so vivid, SO ALIVE that you finish reading the book and want to throw it down and sell all your shit and move to San Francisco to live the life of a broke queer punk girl IMMEDIATELY. Reading Valencia is like inhaling Michelle Tea, and you are going to like it. –Krista

Lunch Poems
Frank O’Hara
1964, City Lights

Frank O’Hara was a New York School poet who made the glib claim that he cared more about art and movies than he did about poetry. He worked a desk job at the MoMA and went walking around New York City writing poems on his lunch break, often on slips of napkins or the backs of receipts. He was gregarious and charming, dated men, flirted with women, drank chocolate malts, had hundreds of friends, was loved by everyone, died tragically at the age of 40 in a car accident on Fire Island, and wrote poems that are so compulsively readable that they almost seem sloppy until you realize how brilliantly he elevated the unstable, ordinary minutia of everyday life to a thing of beauty. How radical he was to allow poetry to be about absolutely anything, whether it was stopping for a liver-sausage sandwich, coughing at the movies, feeding pennies to peanut machines, reading French symbolist poetry, going to Kenneth Koch’s house for the weekend, liking Herman Melville more than Henry James, being in love, smelling fish in Lisbon, smoking too much, feeling gloomy, or simply feeling happy to be alive. The next time you can’t get out of bed, read his poem, “Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]” which ends with “there is no snow in Hollywood / there is no rain in California / I have been to lots of parties / and acted perfectly disgraceful / but I never actually collapsed / oh Lana Turner we love you get up.” Keep Frank O’Hara’s spirit close to you as you go through your day. Get up, play hooky, go exploring, watch a film in the afternoon, meet your friends for dinner, laugh more loudly and more frequently than anyone else, kiss boys, kiss girls, flirt with everyone, talk effusively about the art and music you love, spend your last dollar on something frivolous, and then climb into bed at the end of the night, breathless, buzzing, and eager for more. –Jenny

Love Medicine
Louise Erdrich
1984, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston

I’ve read this book so many times I’ve lost count. The prose is gorgeous and the characters are perfectly rendered—I feel I know them as well as they will let me. The novel is made up of linked stories, each told by a different narrator connected to either the Kashpaw or Lamartine families, all of them Chippewa, from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. This is one of those sweeping, multigenerational stories where you piece together family history–the love triangles, the affairs, the running away, and the homecomings–like a puzzle. All together it is a portrait of real American life. While the stories paint a larger picture, they also stand alone. The one I re-read most constantly is “The Red Convertible,” a tale of two brothers and the fabulous times they had before one of them is drafted into the Vietnam War. –Stephanie

Assassination Vacation
Sarah Vowell
2005, Simon & Schuster

They should make posters of Sarah Vowell’s face and hang them in every social studies and history classroom in America with the caption “She makes leaning fun!” Because she does. I know embarrassingly little about American history (seriously, no quizzes, please), but this book made me feel like a smarty-pants. Vowell takes a road trip to places where presidents and politicians were murdered. Doesn’t that sound like fun? She is hilarious, and so smart, and the book will make you feel like you could go on Jeopardy. –Emma S.

A Wild Sheep Chase
Haruki Murakami
1989, Vintage

The nameless narrator of this surreal mystery is tasked with finding a sheep with a star-shaped birthmark on its back and the ability to possess humans. This peculiar quest takes the narrator and his girlfriend from Tokyo to the island of Hokkaido. Along the way, they encounter a slew of odd characters, including a “sheep man” who wears a full sheepskin pulled over his head and several people who’ve had the elusive sheep enter their bodies. This novel is fascinating, but I’ll be honest with you, it isn’t an easy read. It reminds me of a David Lynch movie, because at times it can be difficult to fully grasp what’s happening (there’s an entire chapter about a whale penis). However, by the end of it, you’re like, “I don’t know what the hell I just experienced, but it was really cool.” The reader’s attempt at unearthing some deeper meaning in the story parallels the narrator’s search for the sheep. If you like strange, labyrinthine tales, or if you’re an aspiring fiction writer who’s interested in unconventional storytelling, you have to check out this book immediately. –Amber

Road to Nowhere
Christopher Pike
1993, Archway

This book by legendary teen thriller author Christopher Pike creeps under your skin and haunts you for days. The tagline on the front cover is “Death came along for the ride,” so right off the bat, you know Pike isn’t playing around. The chilling story begins with Teresa, a distraught 18-year-old, running away from home. She gets into her car, not knowing where she’s headed, but determined to leave Los Angeles. While driving up the coast, she picks up two young hitchhikers: a guy named Freedom Jack and a girl named Poppy Corn. Like so many of the page-turners Pike wrote in the ’90s, this one is totally absorbing, full of mystery and twists, and straight up bonkers. But it’s also a poignant exploration of life and death. If you aren’t already addicted to Pike’s work, then you will be after reading this. –Amber

Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
1997, First Anchor

Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. There’s nothing dry and boring here–it reads, as all of his books do, as briskly and vividly as a novel. Into the Wild is the true story of a privileged college grad, Christopher McCandless, who gives away all of his money, burns the rest, and hitchhikes to Alaska to live off the land. The book is heartbreaking and tragic (and it will make you appreciate the grocery store on your corner). There is romance here, the romance of wilderness and nature and possibility, but it’s also a sobering look at youthful idealism. –Emma S.

Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism
Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein
2009, Seal Press

In 2007, friends Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein set off on a road trip across America to speak to young women about their relationship with feminism. The resulting book is both a diary of their trip and an archive of their findings, with brief portraits and interviews with more than a hundred different women. What’s especially fascinating to read about are all the different connections that girls had with the word feminism. Some enthusiastically claimed the title, others felt alienated by the feminist movement’s tendency to privilege certain voices, and to many, it was a completely foreign concept. Aronowitz and Bernstein’s travels felt honest, and I appreciated their attempt to expand the conversation beyond women who may already be entrenched in the discourse of social justice. –Anna

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Cheryl Strayed
2012, Alfred A. Knopf

Cheryl Strayed is a badass. When she was in her 20s, she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. That’s 1,100 miles. All her toenails fell off, and she was divorced and mourning her mother, and she just kept going. This memoir details Strayed’s entire journey–including what happened prior to the hike that made her do it in the first place. It’s a searing, honest read–she doesn’t always come off well, and that seems to be the point, because the truth isn’t always flattering. With this book, as well as her Dear Sugar advice column for The Rumpus, Strayed has earned my trust forever. –Emma S.

It Chooses You
Miranda July
2011, McSweeney’s

This might sound blasphemous, but I was never a huge Miranda July fan before this year. I mean, I respected the hell out of her as a person and an artist, but I never felt a deep connection to her work–that is, until The Future found its way on Netflix (and subsequently into my heart). This book is an accompaniment to that movie. July, who is having trouble finishing her screenplay, answers classified ads in the PennySaver. She goes to the homes of various people in Los Angeles, interviewing them about the histories behind the objects they are selling. A few reviews that I’ve read of this book were critical of the way July would always relate her interview subjects to her own experiences and, subsequently, her difficulties in writing her script. I had the opposite reaction–I loved the insight into her artistic and creative process, and the significant influence of interacting with strangers. —Anna

Saving June
Hannah Harrington
2011, Harlequin Teen

This is a book about road trips, classic rock, friendship, love, family, and grief–that particular kind of grief for someone who committed suicide and left behind a million unanswered questions. Harper Scott’s sister, June, was one of those girls who seemed to have everything going for her, but two weeks before her high school graduation, she killed herself. After Harper’s divorced parents decide to split June’s ashes between them, Harper steals the urn, determined to take June to the place she always wanted to go: California. Her best friend Laney accompanies her, as does Jake, a guy June tutored in math. Jake made June mix CDs, including the one she was listening to before she died, and he also has a big secret. Saving June is one of those beautiful, character-driven books where the people are so relatable and real, they could be your friends (or you). For someone like me, who took a road trip to cope with grief, this story rang so true, but even if you haven’t been through anything like that, Saving June will break your heart and mend it at the same time. –Stephanie ♦


  • voxceleste August 16th, 2012 11:06 PM

    fuck yeah! murakami!

  • j-bird August 16th, 2012 11:11 PM

    All of these books sound amazing! i’m going to read them all, starting with Lunch Poems, or Wild. My favorite road trip book is American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I guess it’s not truly a road trip novel because there’s a lot more going on, but road side attractions and small towns are important to the story.

  • suburban grrrl August 16th, 2012 11:20 PM

    I’m gonna disagree about Into The Wild– I had to read it for school and I really disliked it. I’m usually open-minded with that kind of stuff but I thought Chris McCandless was a totally unsympathetic figure.

    • Sugar August 17th, 2012 3:08 AM

      yes, he was a total moron.

    • Abby August 17th, 2012 10:20 AM

      Yeah, I kind of agree… He was pretty dumb to do that ha.

  • junebug August 16th, 2012 11:34 PM


  • missblack August 16th, 2012 11:43 PM


    Also, there are several really great books about Everett Ruess, who was a sort of artist/wanderer of Arizona and New Mexico in the 1930s. The anthology of his letters to his brother is absolutely amazing.


  • odalisque August 17th, 2012 1:28 AM

    I love these kinds of posts! I’ve only read On The Road but these all sound perfect for me.

    Valencia isn’t at the local public library though…dslhdsf damn.

  • Elizabete August 17th, 2012 2:07 AM

    Aw, i haven’t read any of those books. Maybe because i am not too interested in USA and can not relate :)

    However i have read other Murakami books and i think they all are good books about journeys, for example “Kafka on the shore” about a 15-year-old boy who runs away from home and meets a lot of amazing people.

  • Aubrey August 17th, 2012 2:13 AM


  • kavalier August 17th, 2012 3:07 AM

    frank o’hara! steps is one of my favourite poems, though i’m never certain whether i’m missing some hidden point. regardless, there’s something so lovely about the whole poem, especially the closing stanza:

    “oh god it’s wonderful
    to get out of bed
    and drink too much coffee
    and smoke too many cigarettes
    and love you so much”

    • Jenny August 17th, 2012 4:26 PM

      FUUUUCK. I love Steps
      so much
      so much
      so much

  • Sugar August 17th, 2012 3:10 AM

    Jessica, if you didn’t like OtR, maybe you would like Neal Cassady?

  • Lillypod August 17th, 2012 3:31 AM

    Frank o hara Frank o hara Frank o hara

  • NotReallyChristian August 17th, 2012 4:21 AM

    On the Road sucks for exactly the reasons Jessica says. Still read it if you want, because it is a classic, but keep your eyes out for the female ‘characters’ and you’ll see what she means – they literally just clean, act annoying and sleep with the guys. UGH. Interestingly the first person to point this out to me was my boyfriend, which is obviously proof of his amazingness.

    • kendallakwia August 17th, 2012 11:58 AM

      I really, really loved On The Road, but for those exact reasons. All the characters are based off of real people, and therefore extremely flawed. Jack Kerouac’s misogyny is impossibly obvious…but this book would be NOTHING without it. All the men treat women as objects, run back to their families when they need money, and generally think of themselves as “independent” when they are really just using people who care about them. I think that’s what makes OtR a beautiful book (besides the fact that it is beautifully written,) because it demonstrates that the characters don’t have to be likeable…or even the least bit good…to make an amazing story. Everyone is complex, and those complexities, I think, are very important in creating an interesting plot. (In particular, I think it’s really interesting how the characters served in WWII! They don’t harbor any anti-government or anti-institution sentiments like generations that came after them…yet they still crave freedom. Freedom from the 50′s ideals. YET THEY THRIVE ON THOSE IDEALS TO GAIN THEIR FREEDOM.) I like this book ’cause it makes me think. Sorry for the ‘ramble :)

  • majamajamaja August 17th, 2012 8:48 AM

    Kont Tiki!

    A must read!

    Combines everything that a journey is, AND it’s a true story (though I wasn’t aware of it when I read it in elementery school and didn’t think much of it)

  • Lucille August 17th, 2012 8:49 AM

    Definitely reading if now, after seeing it here!
    thank you rookie!thank you steph!
    + I’ll read road to nowhere!

  • redblueblueberry August 17th, 2012 9:31 AM


    I adored this book because it is about a difficult mother – daughter relationship (something i know lots about). The mother uproots her kid from Wisconsin and moves to LA because she is sure her daughter is going to be the next television star. They go on this roadtrip together and they couldn’t be more different. Adele (the mother) is this glitzy, center of attention sort of person, while Ann (the daughter) is quiet, thoughtful and reserved. Even though the story sounds like something you’ve heard too many times before the relationship between the two is heartbreaking and special.

    Ann says about her mother: “Strangers always love my mother. And even if you hate her, can’t stand her, even if she’s ruining your life, there’s something about her, some romance, some power. She’s absolutely herself. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never get to her. And when she dies, the world will be flat, too simple, reasonable, fair.”

    The book was also made into a film starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman but i prefered the book. : ) it’s a great summer/autumn read too!

    • Stephanie August 17th, 2012 5:55 PM

      Oooh, I’ve heard about this book (and remember seeing ads for the movie). Thanks for mentioning it here. I’m going to put it on my library list as well as Valencia and Blue Highways because OMG both of those sound so good. I’ve read other Michelle Tea and can;t believe I haven’t read Valencia!

  • redblueblueberry August 17th, 2012 9:44 AM

    Also: Christopher Pike!!! Does anybody here remember Spooksville??? Along with the characters: Adam Freeman, Sara “Sally” Wilcox, Cindy Makey, Bryce Poole and Ann Templeton! Awwww yeah!

  • fizzingwhizbees August 17th, 2012 10:17 AM

    I was hoping to see Paper Towns by John Green – in my opinion, one of the most fantastic road trips ever.

  • Abby August 17th, 2012 10:28 AM

    WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN BY LIONEL SHRIVER. It’s a REALLY good book, especially if you’re interested in psychology or parent-child relationships. It’s basically a series of letters from a woman to her estranged husband describing their son’s life before he went to school one day and killed close to ten people. He turns out to be a major psychopath… It’s REALLY interesting. However, it will have the tendency to make you feel a little bit… Sad and despairing at times, especially if you’re very empathetic, like I am. So if you’re very inclined to feeling sad about books, make sure you have things to make you happy while you’re reading it lol. But read it. It’s really good.

  • robynjean August 17th, 2012 11:04 AM

    thank you so much for this post! i am doing a performance about journeys, and this is such a wonderful source for material! :D :D

  • I.ila August 17th, 2012 11:12 AM

    I also love Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. It’s such an amazing book.

  • caro nation August 17th, 2012 11:50 AM

    ‘Specially Murakami, July, and O’Hara.

    I’m not concerned with seeming literary, so I’m going to marvel at the lack of anything Gorillaz-related on Rookie EVER. They were my gateway from inane anime to overly intellectual post-punk, Terry Gilliam, and The Wicker Man. Their biography is completely fabricated and completely insane. A CARTOON BAND WITH AN EVER-CHANGING MUSIC COLLECTIVE AND A UNIVERSE DRAWN BY THE BEGETTER OF TANK GIRL. It does not get much better.

    • caro nation August 17th, 2012 11:52 AM

      And Stephanie, have you read Going Bovine?

      • Stephanie August 17th, 2012 5:56 PM

        I haven’t, but it has been on my list for a long time! Will have to bump it up!

        • caro nation August 18th, 2012 6:28 AM

          It’s a Murakami-Cory Doctorow amalgam. Talk about psychedelic road trips spanning the entire country.

    • Tyknos93 August 17th, 2012 10:49 PM

      OMGILOVEGORILLAZSOMUCH. I guess maybe people don’t think it’s a cool thing, a cartoon band, but yeah the are Really awesome. “Voiced” by Damon Albarn, Hip Hop Legends, Yukimi Nagano (little dragon), and drawn by Jamie Hewlett who is the ideal human male (tank girl, meet the frownies, journey to the west) So yeah, I second that and I hope they’ll be on here in the future.

      • caro nation August 18th, 2012 6:26 AM

        Demon Days isn’t about a “road trip” per say, but it’s definitely a visceral journey, and it becomes more potent every time I listen to it.

        Tykonos93, are you coming to the Atlanta Rookie meet-ups? I TOTALLY WANT TO MEET YOU.

        • Tyknos93 August 18th, 2012 12:22 PM

          Yeah, I’m trying to!!! I’m actually going to the biking event for Living Walls Sunday. Are you in the FB group?

  • LuxOrBust August 17th, 2012 12:07 PM

    Dylan, I really like your summary of On the Road. Spot on. I totally get what Jessica is saying about the lack of a real female character in the book but every single time I read OtR I walk away with such a sense of freedom and endless possibility. This book taught me how to love the moment you’re in and enjoy the little things in life because they are AMAZING.
    Everyone should give this book a chance!

  • unefillecommetoi August 17th, 2012 12:39 PM

    when i saw this month’s theme i was like ok when are they going to talk about jack kerouac?! and i was really happy and excited and you should read dharma bums and allen ginsberg’s howl :D

  • wayffleos August 17th, 2012 1:41 PM

    I’m definitely going to the library now.
    But I thought catcher in the rye would be on here

  • Megan Anne August 17th, 2012 2:28 PM

    lovely selection! I’ll definitely be checking these out and re reading some

  • Three Plays by Margot Tenenbaum August 17th, 2012 3:06 PM

    I just read 1Q84 and thought it was the bee’s knees and now I’m like overwhelmed that there’s all these books he’s written before and even if I like them half as much as 1Q84 it’s still an embarrassment of riches. So…eff yeah, Murukami!

    • Maddy August 17th, 2012 3:47 PM

      I read 1Q84 (it took a while) and yeah am trying to figure out which to read next. I think I was going to read Norweigan Wood? And I stupidly read the reviews of 1Q84 on Amazon after having decided I sort of liked it and the reviews were all like “This is his worst work! He’s going downhill, blah blah blah”.

  • Jenny August 17th, 2012 4:28 PM

    Dang, Jessica you nailed it yr description of reading On the Road. I felt similarly–I didn’t like it and could barely connect to it, but was afraid to say so because it felt like every single person who was mildly interesting and spirited was raving about it. I have got to read Blue Highways. It sounds tight.

  • Kaetlebugg August 17th, 2012 7:48 PM

    Yay I love these book suggestion posts Rookie does! And of course just adding on to what everyone is already saying about On the Road – a very good book & worthwhile read, but full of sexism & racism. I was just disappointed to find that cause I’d always had this romantic notion of the Beats as the forefathers of the Hippies and being equally full of ideas about equality, but obviously not.

    • Tyknos93 August 17th, 2012 11:23 PM

      DUDE YES!!! I had to put aside everything I am and try to think in the context of the time and characters. However, when they talked about ravishing black woman outside of a soup kitchen in Chicago, I was fighting the urge put away this book forever. Then what he did to Terry and her kid was screwed up and childish. Ultimately, I just think they were very unaware. They didn’t know anything about anything and it’s not like they necessarily had to. If anything went wrong they could just pack up, stick out their thumb and be in the next town. Fundamentally though they all had problems. Problems not unlike the ones many young people have always faced, but it made them sort of ignorant to other people’s troubles. I hope this makes even a fraction of sense…

  • Helenus August 17th, 2012 9:35 PM

    On The Road has got the be one of the greatest books of all time.

  • Arden August 18th, 2012 4:59 AM


  • eliselbv August 18th, 2012 5:42 AM

    I bought On the road yesterday and I’m so excited about reading it!!! But first I have to finish the one I already started…


  • Madsy August 19th, 2012 2:11 AM

    Very interesting list, I’ll have to check out at least one of these books before the summer is up (Valencia looks particularly cool)!

    Personally, I’m a huge fan of literary non-fiction, so my favourite road trip book is Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman (also my favourite writer). He drives around the States with car full of CDs and visits the places where rock stars and musicians have died. It grew out of an article he wrote for SPIN magazine and initially starts out as a kind of homage to the Great American Road Trip and rock culture romanticism, but gradually turns into more of a memoir of Chuck’s love life and his love of rock music (there’s a hilarious chapter in which he compares all of his ex-girlfriends to members of KISS). Like all of his stuff it’s funny, sincere, obsessive, endearing, and highly entertaining if you’re a pop-culture nerd such as myself. I thoroughly recommend it (and everything else Klosterman has written, for that matter) :)

  • georgie fruit August 19th, 2012 10:14 AM

    Michelle Tea, yes yes yes, all the time, she is a goddess whom I love. also a great journey book and really just one of my favorite books ever of all time that I never stop talking about is MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides who is one of the literary greats of modern America. seriously. read it, love it, marvel at how someone could seemingly so effortlessly craft a 20th-century Greek epic about Cal, unknowingly intersex, whose history traverses the Greco-Turkish war, Prohibition, the early days of the Nation of Islam, Detroit during the race riots, San Francisco during the summer of love, modern day Germany … sigh IT IS SO GOOD.

  • guiltfreedonut August 20th, 2012 10:33 PM

    Emma, I loved the beginning of Into The Wild but by the end of the book I got really annoyed at him. I wanted him to go home. I wanted him to understand how much he mean to those he crossed paths with. I know he was poisoned but he really killed himself but in a long and painful way not just for him but his family too. The story upsets me.