The main thing about vacations is to relax and recharge. A good way to accomplish this is to get yourself lost in a good book

However, the July 4th holiday is a bit special and with a tumultuous election bearing down on us, some perspective can be comforting.

The bestsellers below are classic road trips through the USA, revealing much about the country's character.  

To help you choose, I included the first paragraph of each book. I don't know about you, but I can tell from the first paragraph whether I'll like a book.


Author: John Steinbeck

Summary: The book depicts a 1960 road trip around the United States made by the novelist, in the company of his standard poodle, Charley. Steinbeck was moved by a desire to see his country on a personal level, since he made his living writing about it. He writes of having many questions going into his journey, the main one being, "What are Americans like today?" However, he finds himself concerned about much of the "new America" he witnessed.

First paragraph: "When I was very young in the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch.  When years describe me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am at fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts  of a ships whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings the ancient shutter, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage.  In other words, I don't improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself."

Author: Mark Twain

Summary: Under the tutelage of the most celebrated pilot on the Mississippi, a young Mark Twain acquires the skills to navigate a constantly changing riverscape, avoiding potential collisions with other boats and traversing winding channels in the dead of night. The vivid and ever-engaging narrative encompasses tales of riverside town feuds, the professional vicissitudes of a riverboat gambler, dramatic accounts of life in Vicksburg as the city lay under siege during the Civil War, and many other scenes from a now-vanished way of life. These antebellum visions take on a bittersweet cast with the author's postwar return to the region, when railroad competition has largely doomed the commercial steamboat and the old ways of life are passing into history.

First Paragraph: "The Mississippi is well worth reading about. It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable.  Considering the Missouri its main branch, it is the longest river in the world-four thousand three hundred miles.  It seems safe to say that it is also the most crookedest river in the world, since in one part of its journey it uses up one thousand three hundred miles to cover the same ground that the crow would fly over in six hundred and seventy-five. It discharges three times as much water as the St. Lawrence, twenty-five times as much as the Rhine, and three hundred and thirty-eight times as much as the Thames. No other river has so vast the drainage-basin; it draws its water-supply  from twenty-eight states and territories; from Delaware on the Atlantic seaboard, and from all the country between that and Idaho on the Pacific slope-a spread of forty-five degrees of longitude. The Mississippi receives and carries to the Gulf water from fifty-four subordinate rivers that are navigable buy flats and keels. The area of its drainage-basin is as great as the combined areas of England, whales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Turkey; and almost all of this wide region is fertile; the Mississippi Valley, proper, is exceptionally so."

Author: Alexis de Tocqueville

Summary: Tocqueville vividly describes the unprecedented social equality he found in America and explores its implications for European society in the emerging modern era. His book provides enduring insight into the political consequences of widespread property ownership, the potential dangers to liberty inherent in majority rule, the importance of civil institutions in an individualistic culture dominated by the pursuit of material self-interest, and the vital role of religion in American life, while prophetically probing the deep differences between the free and slave states.

First Paragraph: "among the things that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, none struck me more forcefully than the equality of conditions. I readily discovered what a prodigious influence this basic fact exerts on the workings of society. It imparts a certain direction to the public spirit in a certain shape to laws, establishes new maxims for governing, and fosters distinctive habits in the governed."

Author: Jack Kerouac

Summary: The two main characters of this largely autobiographical book are the narrator, Sal Paradise, and his friend Dean Moriarty, much admired for his carefree attitude and sense of adventure, a free-spirited maverick eager to explore all kicks and an inspiration and catalyst for Sal's travels. The novel contains five parts, three of them describing road trips with Moriarty. The narrative takes place in the years 1947 to 1950, is full of Americana, especially the underground world of beat poets, jazz, drugs and sex.

First Paragraph: " I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won't bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with them miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead.  With the coming of Dean Moriarty begin the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off. Dean is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jalopy, on their way to Los Angeles. First reports of him came to me through Chad King, who'd show me a few letters from him written in a New Mexico reform school.  I was tremendously interested in the letters because they so naïvely and sweetly asked Chad to teach him all about Nietzsche and all the wonderful intellectual things that Chad knew.  At one point Carlo and I talked about the letters and wondered if we would ever meet the strange Dean Moriarty. This is all far back, when Dean was not the way he is today, when he was a young jailkid shrouded in mystery. The news came that Dean was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time; also there was talk that he had just married a girl called Marylou."

Author: Robert M. Pirsig

Summary: A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. The narrator's relationship with his son leads to a self-reckoning; the craft of motorcycle maintenance leads to a process for reconciling science, religion, and humanism.

First Paragraph: "I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning. The wind, even at 60 miles an hour, is warm and humid. When it's this hot and muggy at eight-thirty, I'm wondering what it's going to be like in the afternoon."