When you hit the road on the way to your summer vacation destination, perhaps you and your family plan to listen to an engrossing audiobook. But, just as in-flight magazines eschew printing any articles about air travel gone awry, you might want to avoid listening to tales in which road trips become harrowing adventures, such as those depicted in these excellent books that are perhaps best enjoyed in the comfort of your home, when the kids aren’t listening.
The Dead Lands, by Benjamin Percy
Benjamin Percy’s absorbing new novel imagines a future America after global nuclear warfare and a flu pandemic, where humans survive in a few desperate outposts, including one in St. Louis: “The Sanctuary,” rimmed by a wall and ruled by a cruel mayor. The people inside don’t know if any other humans are out there, and so a group of intrepid adventurers steal away—including a man named Lewis and a woman named Clark—and re-create the famed Corps of Discovery mission across the U.S. The difference? This road trip includes run-ins with huge mutant bats, ravenous bears, nuclear contamination sites, and slavers looking for fresh stock. A new version of famed mountain man John Colter is along for the ride, and yes, he does reenact his legendary naked run to save his life.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
In Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner, a father and son try to survive and forage for food as they make their way through a postapocalyptic America. Unless botulism-contaminated canned goods and babies roasting on a spit are your idea of fun sites to see with the kids, it’s best to avoid this audiobook in the car.
The Harder They Come, by T.C. Boyle
Talk about vacation mayhem. T.C. Boyle’s engrossing 25th book kicks off with an elderly Vietnam veteran, Sten Stenson, on holiday in Costa Rica. When robbers hold up Sten’s tour group, the vet kills one of them with his bare hands. And the fun doesn’t end there! Sten’s grown son Adam, back home in California, is mentally ill and suffers from delusions that he can transform himself into a self-sufficient survivalist like John Colter. Sarah, a farrier by trade, picks Adam up as a hitchhiker. Sarah is anti-government and doesn’t believe in the seatbelt law—and when she’s pulled over for flouting it, it kicks off her and Adam’s crime spree.
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
Charles Frazier’s 1997 National Book Award winner reimagines Homer’s The Odyssey in the setting of America after the Civil War, as wounded soldier W.P. Inman tries to make his way home to his beloved Ada in North Carolina. In true Odyssey style, his journey isn’t as straightforward and uneventful as we’d like our road trips to be. Along the way, Inman is captured by the Home Guard and threatened with robbery, violence, and starvation. Let this book serve as a reminder to pack adequate snacks for your trip.
The Glass Cage, by Nicholas Carr
In the provocative and thoughtful The Glass Cage, technology thinker Nicholas Carr examines how increasing dependence on automation is undermining us. He cites evidence that suggests use of such technologies as autopilot dull our ability to react to emergencies whenever life throws the computer something it can’t handle. Carr even cites studies suggesting our reliance on technologies such as Google Maps might impair our brains, as we become less aware of our spatial surroundings, and might even increase the onset of dementia as we use certain parts of our brains less often. Perhaps this is not what you want to hear as you brave a highway full of fellow technology-addicted Americans.