Armchair Travel: Books to Take You on a Journey Through the United States

With gas prices so cheap and the National Parks’ 100th anniversary celebration, this year may be an excellent time for a road trip.

The following are some suggestions for curing your wanderlust.

 Cover image for Travels with Charley : in search of America
In 1960, John Steinbeck, the Nobel Prize in Literature winner well-known for Grapes of Wrath, a fictional road trip in itself about the Joad family migration from a farm in Oklahoma to the central California valley via Route 66 during the Great Depression, travels via camper through forty states with his poodle Charley and poignantly describes what America is like during that period including a good look at political and race relations in 1960s America. He speaks to everyone from farmers to cooks at diners. A true classic road trip book.
 Cover image for Blue highways : a journey into America
Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon 
Another road trip classic is this book. In 1978, William Least Heat-Moon, an unemployed teacher, departed on a three-month 13,000 mile road trip around the perimeter of the country exploring the “blue” rural highways on his old Rand McNally map and stopping at small towns with interesting names such as Dull, Tennessee and Gnawbone, Indiana.
 Cover image for On the road
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
This classic originally published in 1957 is actually fiction, but is based on Kerouac’s travels with his Beat generation counterculture friends in late 1940s and early 1950s America.
 Cover image for Roughing it
Roughing It by Mark Twain
Another classic by author, journalist, and humorist Mark Twain describes his travels west by stagecoach with his brother from St. Louis, Missouri to Carson City, Nevada where his older brother was designated territorial secretary in 1861 and he lives for six years. Twain documents his adventures with hilarious passages of the stagecoach trip, his colorful life in mining towns such as Virginia City, his time in roaring San Francisco and his side trips exploring the Sierras in California. One of the most memorable and humorous passages was when he and a friend accidentally started a forest fire at his campsite on lonely Lake Tahoe and his descriptions of Mono Lake. Includes his illustrations as well.
 Cover image for Life on the Mississippi
Life on the Mississipi by Mark Twain
If you’re travelling on the Mississippi River or along it, you may wish to read this amusing memoir by Mark Twain. With his trademark wit, he describes life along the Mississippi River from when he was a steamboat captain on the Mississippi River before the Civil War. He returns twenty years later and discusses all the changes he observes in transportation, technology, and culture along the river.
This is Bryson’s first travel memoir written in 1989 and it cleverly chronicles his almost 14,000 mile cross-country road trip through 10 states. His purpose is to visit small towns and little known tourist sites and his biting sarcasm is apparent throughout the book.
 Cover image for Assassination vacation
Assassination Vacation by Susan Vowell
National Public Radio commentator and author Vowell, who is obsessed with death and history, drags her nephew on a comical road trip or “pilgrimage” of presidential assassinations. She visits museums, cemeteries, and other various historical sites associated with the first three American presidential assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley.
 Cover image for The Oregon trail ; The conspiracy of Pontiac
For a genuine view of the original emigrants who traveled the Oregon Trail, historian Francis Parkman Jr. wrote this book in 1849 of his two-month travels along the trail in 1846. He encounters pioneers, traders, and fur trappers, lives among the Sioux Indians, and joins a buffalo hunting party.
Cover image for The Oregon Trail : an American journey 
In 2011, Rinker Buck and his brother recreated a modern day cross-country trip through six states by mule-drawn covered wagon on the Oregon Trail, along which many of our forefathers took to get to the west. Filled with a comprehensive history of the trail, the country they crossed and information on the pioneers who fought for their lives against storms and Native Americans to make their way west for a better life.
Cover image for Undaunted courage : Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the opening of the American West 
Eminent historian Stephen Ambrose wrote this spellbinding account of the 1803 expedition of Lewis and Clark to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Sent by Thomas Jefferson, they traveled west on the Missouri River, over the Rockies and the Continental Divide, on the Columbia River through to the western coast of Oregon studying and mapping the geography and natural history of the area along the way and documenting their accounts with Native Americans such as Sacagawea.
 Cover image for Appetite for America : how visionary businessman Fred Harvey built a railroad hospitality empire that civilized the Wild West
Friend’s book combines fascinating history, culture, and famous American and international figures in a book about Fred Harvey who built hotels and restaurants along the railroad routes for people travelling by train along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad to the West in the mid-1800s to mid-1900s. He made famous the Harvey Girls, single women who travelled out west to serve the hungry travelers, and left behind many historic hotels such as The El Tovar in Grand Canyon National Park. Many of the remaining hotels follow the famous Route 66.
 Cover image for The longest road : overland in search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean
Like Steinbeck and Least Heat-Moon before him, Philip Caputo travels across the United States describing America at a certain point in time, in this case 2011. He attempts to answer the question, "What keeps Americans united in a country as big and diverse as ours?”, in his cross-country road trip by Airstream trailer. He travels from Key West, Florida in the South to Deadhorse, Alaska in the North in mostly rural areas over four months and chronicles his encounters with everyday people from Cuban immigrants in Florida to Inuit Eskimos in Alaska.
 Cover image for Deep South : four seasons on back roads
Paul Theroux, renowned for his travel memoirs in many exotic locations on other continents like Africa, Asia, or South America, instead focuses on the United States this time with this 2015 book about his four trips to the Deep South exploring rural highways and the folklore, history, and current physical and social condition of the region.
 Cover image for My Southern journey : true stories from the heart of the South
If you’re travelling through the South, you may enjoy reading these essays Bragg wrote to give you a strong sense of place and identity of what it means to be in the American “South”. These essays collected from the past ten years of his writing allow you to experience the regional food, language, culture, religion and sense of what it is to live and travel through the South.
Cover image for Dogtripping : 25 rescues, 11 volunteers, and 3 RVs on our canine cross-country adventure 
Rosenfelt, a mystery writer with a canine protagonist, travels by RV crosscountry with 11 other volunteers from Silverado Canyon in Orange County where he lived to Maine to move his 25 rescue dogs. So, if you love dogs and travel this humorous book may be a good match for you.

If you’re idea of travel is on foot with a backpack, you may enjoy the following.
 Cover image for Wild : from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail
This recent biography by Cheryl Strayed was written in 2012 and concentrates on her 1,000 mile backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. People are compelled to travel for different reasons and her book focuses on her motivations for hiking, like coming to terms with her mom’s death from cancer at a young age, as well as the people she meets and the beautiful scenery she sees.
 Cover image for A walk in the woods : rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
This hilarious book follows Bryson’s attempt along with his friend Stephen Katz to through-hike the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine. It was also made into a 2015 movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.
 Cover image for Grandma Gatewood's walk : the inspiring story of the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail
In 1955, while in her mid 60s and after raising eleven children, Grandma Emma Gatewood became the first person ever to traverse the Appalachian Trail from its beginning in Georgia to its end in Maine with none of the fancy backpacking equipment backpackers nowadays feel compelled to own. In fact, she also was the first person to through-hike it a second and third time and went through seven pairs of sneakers and carried her supplies in a drawstring sack during her first trip. She inspired many to walk the little-known trail and became famous for rallying for major repairs to be made to it. As a side note, she also walked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Portland, Oregon in 1959 averaging 22 miles per day to commemorate the Oregon Trail Centennial.

If your taste runs more to fiction, James Michener writes long epic historical fiction of different states in the United States such as HawaiiTexas or Alaska. So, if you're travelling                                         to any of the states below, I suggest them.

 Cover image for HawaiiCover image for TexasCover image for Alaska

Happy travels, trails, and reading to you!


National Park System’s 100th Anniversary

Cover image for The national parks : America's best idea : an illustrated history
One of the hidden gems of American life along with libraries is our “best idea”, the National Park system, which is celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year, August 25th to be exact. Today there are 59 National Parks and more than 400 nationally designated memorials, historic sites, preserves, seashores and much more.

OC Public Libraries has many resources about the national parks to help you plan for trips. So if your summer includes a road trip to one of our country’s beautiful national parks, check out some of the wonderful books or dvds we have to offer while planning your trip.

For a complete overview of the United States’ national park system The National Parks: America’s Best Idea: An Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan is an excellent comprehensive guide to the history of the parks. Ken Burns made a fantastic companion DVD based on the book above in 2009 which originally aired as a series on PBS.

Some of the newer books in the library system on the United States’ national parks as a whole, many published this year and last to commemorate the 100th year anniversary, include the following:
                   Cover image for The wonder of it all : 100 stories from the National Park Service                 Cover image for A thinking person's guide to America's national parks
The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams is described as “part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique”…and “a meditation and manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.”

The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from the National Park Service by Jonathan B. Jarvis includes short one to two page stories from 100 different park employees and volunteers from various national parks from coast to coast on every conceivable park topic from wildlife in the parks to search and rescue operations.

 A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks by Robert Manning is described in the online catalog as “a collection of essays that delve into issues affecting America's national parks and historic sites. The authors, who all have deep personal and professional connections to the national parks, explore how the nation's biological and cultural diversity is represented; the importance of balancing between recreation and preservation; the dynamics of nature as they are shaped by a changing climate; and innovations in technology, sustainability, and stewardship that provide a sense of purpose and hope.”

For those planning a trip this year, you may wish to check out the following books.
Cover image for The national parks coast to coast : the 100 best hikesCover image for The complete guide to the National Park lodges
Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges by David Scott Logan includes practical information on the history and accommodations at many of the national park lodges that are considered architectural and historical treasures.

If you are looking for information on some of the most iconic hikes in the national parks, you may consider The National Parks Coast to Coast: The 100 Best Hikes by Ted Alvarez.

We also have plenty of books on individual national parks. 
Simply search for each park by name in the subject search field of our online catalog to get updated travel books on specific parks.

If you wish to read about some famous people associated with National Parks, consider those below.
Cover image for Nature writings : the story of my boyhood and youth, my first summer in the Sierra, the mountains of California, Stickeen, selected essays

John Muir was a critical figure in establishing the national parks and is today considered the "Father of the National Parks." He camped and hiked with President Theodore Roosevelt, another heavy supporter of the national park concept, in 1903 through the Yosemite and Sierra Nevada area and is considered one of the most vocal proponents of the national park system. You may wish to read his 
My First Summer in the Sierra
and The Mountains of California.

Cover image for Desert solitaire : a season in the wilderness
Edward Abbey, a park ranger, wrote another environmental classic Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness about Arches National Park.

Product Details
Or you may wish to study the lives of some of the explorers such as John Wesley Powell, who led the first expedition down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869. His diary and memoir, The exploration of the Colorado River and its canyons document his adventures.

Cover image for Ansel Adams : the National Park Service photographs
Ansel Adams is famous for his black and white photographs. You could check out Ansel Adams: The National Park Service Photographs as well as many others.

Cover image for Thomas Moran's West : chromolithography, high art, and popular taste 
Other famous artists include Thomas Moran and his Yellowstone paintings which helped encourage enthusiasm in creating the first American national park, Yellowstone. You may consider checking out Thomas Moran's West : Chromolithography, High Art, and Popular.  
The most well-known adult fiction writer associated with the United States’ national parks/monuments is Nevada Barr and her protagonist, courageous woman park ranger Anna Pigeon, who travels around the country to work at various parks, solves mysteries, and encounters different social, recreational, and conservation issues relevant to parks such as caving and spelunking in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, firefighting in Lassen National Park, endangered loggerhead turtles at Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia, the immigration center Ellis Island at Ellis Island National Monument in New York City, or rock climbing the canyons around Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Other parks featured in her mysteries include Mesa Verde National Park, Yosemite National Park, Big Bend National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles off the coast of the Florida Keys, and many others.
Cover image for Wolf stalker
For children, there is the Mysteries in our National Parks series by Gloria Skurzynski, which is similar to the Nevada Barr books in that it’s set in different national parks and covers various conservation issues mostly concerning wildlife. The first in the series is Wolf Stalker and is about wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone. Others in the series include mysteries about whales beaching themselves off Acadia National Park, condors in the Grand Canyon National Park, manatees in Everglades National Park, bats in Carlsbad Caverns, wild mustangs in Zion National Park and many more. We have mysteries 1-12 in our library system and the books are shelved in XFICI which is considered roughly a 3rd to 5th grade reading level.So go forth, explore like our forefathers and enjoy the numerous national parks/ monuments of our country knowing that you are prepared and well informed with books from the library.


Maritime Survival Stories

Who doesn’t like an exciting maritime survival story? Mix in fascinating edge of your seat history and you’ve got Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.

Larson, who is well-known for his outstanding books, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America and In the Garden of Beasts: Love,Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, combines historical facts with excerpts from real passengers’ diaries, letters, telegrams, intelligence ledgers, and war logs from American and British archives. He wrote the book to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the sinking.

For those who forgot their high school American history, the attack on the British passenger ship Lusitania by a German U-boat torpedo in calm, glassy waters twelve miles off the southern coast of Ireland is one of the reasons that the United States entered World War I although it was nearly two years after the May 7, 1915 incident.

The book alternates between the activities of various passengers and staff on the Lusitania, the German U-boat, U-20’s crew, the secret British intelligence unit Room 40 and President Woodrow Wilson.

Although the Lusitania had twenty-two lifeboats only six made it into the water before the book sank in only eighteen minutes and killed 1198 passengers, 123 of which were Americans.

The book reminds me very much of another interesting 1955 nautical survival classic, A Night to Remember by Walter Lord about the sinking by an iceberg of the supposedly “unsinkable” Titanic on its maiden voyage in the north Atlantic Ocean just the year before the Lusitania on April 12, 1914.

Cover image for In the heart of the sea : the tragedy of the whaleship Essex

Another book which I haven’t yet read but was recently made into a movie directed by Ron Howard falls into this category of marine survival story as well, In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The ship was attacked by a sperm whale in 1820 and this book tells the fascinating story of the survival of the crew over ninety days at sea.

Cover image for The perfect storm : a true story of men against the sea

Also, The Perfect Storm: a True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger covers the commercial fishing vessel’s Andrea Gail’s October 1991 journey into the turbulent, stormy waters off of eastern Canada near Nova Scotia during a so-called “storm of the century” although in this case, unfortunately, none of the six crew members survived.


National Book Award Winner Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman was on the teen literature panel at the first Literary Orange that I attended several years ago. He shared his inspiration for The Schwa Was Here: a student who seemed to be invisible because nobody noticed him. Impressed by Shusterman's original take on the world, I've kept an eye out for his books ever since.

So I was pleased to see his picture on the cover of School Library Journal and to learn that his most recent novel, Challenger Deephas won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. This may be the most deeply felt and personal book that Shusterman will ever write, because it was inspired by his own son's battle with schizophrenia. In his author's note he says, "Challenger Deep is by no means a work of fiction... I watched as someone I loved journeyed to the deep, and I felt powerless to stop the descent." The book is illustrated by his son's somewhat disjointed sketches that he drew during his illness.

Narrator Caden Bosch alternates between his increasingly erratic interactions with family and schoolmates and his voyage on a ship that is headed for the deepest point on earth: Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench. As the reader progresses, it becomes evident that the voyage exists only in Caden's mind. His parents finally admit him to a psychiatric hospital, where heavy medication that makes his brain feel like Jell-o nevertheless helps him regain a sense of reality.

This book should be read by anyone whose life is affected by mental illness -- which is just about all of us. The insider's view will develop empathy for those who know someone and perhaps reassurance for those who are suffering themselves.


True Stories of Justice

Sometimes attaining justice in real life is elusive, however, in the following recent nonfiction books which read like fiction, there’s a wonderful satisfaction in seeing people reach their goals. It’s also extremely disappointing to see others only receive minimal or no justice.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor. An American woman in New York, Maria Altmann, attempts to recover her Jewish family’s artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, especially a portrait the family commissioned of Gustav Klimt to paint of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer in 1910, a now famous painting called The Woman in Gold. The Austrian government refuses to return it and finally after a long court battle she triumphs. This book was made into an excellent movie starring Helen Mirren titled Woman in Gold, which is also available at some branches of the OC Public Libraries.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight For Justice by Bill Browder, is similarly about ultimately achieving justice. Bill Browder, one of the first and largest foreign investors in Russia after the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union and the country opened up its market to capitalism, exposes the financial shenanigans and corruption of the government and the oligarchs when they steal many of the shares in the companies his clients had invested in by splitting them and then making them unavailable for foreign investors to buy. They also accuse him of $230 million in tax evasion and his attorney determines that many civil servants and government officials siphoned the money. His attorney is imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately beaten to death. Browder is determined to get justice for him and gets a bill passed in the U.S. that further prevents the named people from using their ill-gotten billions to invest in U.S. markets and real estate. The justice, however, is bittersweet since in retaliation Putin restricted adoptions of Russian orphans to Americans.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson. Bryan Stephenson is a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama who fights for mostly poor, disabled African-American adults and children and the wrongly accused on death row. These cases will amaze you and make you question the American justice system.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. This is a book in which justice is a slippery slope. Imagine you are in a hospital during Hurricane Katrina and the doctors feel that it is more humane to euthanize you than be rescued by helicopter because they think you won’t get out of the hospital on time and will suffer in the process. Patients endured many hours in poor conditions without electricity and functional medical equipment before they were finally rescued. The second half of the book covers the trial in which the staff members responsible for the patients must defend their actions.

The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II by Jan Jarboe Russell. Many of us are familiar with the unjust treatment of the Japanese in America, most of them citizens, who were rounded up in internment camps for the rest of WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is certainly unjust enough since many lost businesses, land, and homes while they were away. However, many people would be surprised to discover that the U.S. also put many German Americans in internment camps and even gathered Japanese and Germans from other countries in North, Central and South America to stay at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas and then sent them back to nuclear bomb ravaged Japan and war-torn Germany during WWII in exchange for American POWs.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a story of medical ethics gone wrong and injustice that was never addressed. Henrietta Lacks, a poor sick woman and a Southern tobacco farmer who provided the HeLa cells for cancer research in the 1950s, never even knew that her cells were taken and used. Although her own children couldn’t even afford medical insurance, neither she nor her family ever received compensation for it.