Sometimes, you find a book that almost demands your complete attention. One that you carve time out of your busy day to curl up with, a book that keeps you up at night, not necessarily because it’s scary or intense, but because you want to keep reading, living, experiencing it. I’ve got one of those books right now– Travels with Charley in Search of America, which in turn inspired this list!
Travels with Charley in Search of America (John Steinbeck)
When I was in high school, I was a huge fan of John Steinbeck. And honestly, even though I couldn’t tell you the last time I read one of his books, I still consider myself a devoted and ardent fan. That being said, I’ve read about half of his books (with the mistaken impression that if I read everything, I wouldn’t have anything else to look forward to) and decided now, years after I graduated, that I would remedy the defect and pick up those titles that I had missed. I decided to start with Travels with Charley.
While Steinbeck is mostly remembered for his novels, this was one of a handful of nonfiction pieces. The aging author finally succumbed to the urge to move, to travel, and to see the world (and who hasn’t felt that sensation at one time or another?) so he purchases an old pickup truck, adds a cabin of sorts onto the back, and goes on a journey across America with only his pet poodle, Charley, for company. It’s a lovely book so far, with gentle pacing and a really engaging story. If you are so inclined, you can do what I’m doing, too, and get the audiobook, narrated by Gary Sinese.
Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy (Nathaniel Philbrick)
When George Washington became president in 1789, the United States was still a loose confederation, so the newly minted president decided to take a tour of the former colonies to talk to the ordinary citizens about his new government and imbue in them the idea of being Americans.
In 2018, Nathaniel Philbrick embarked on a quest of his own, to see what America had become in the 229 years since Washington’s fateful trip. With his wife, Melissa and their dog, Dora, Philbrick follows the same route that Washington took, from Mount Vernon to New York, and onward. Swapping between the 18th and 21st centuries, Travels with George is a honest look into Washington’s legacy and the country that he left behind.
For interested readers, you can also get this book on audio.
Travels with Casey (Benoit Denizet-Lewis)
This one’s for the dog-lovers out there! A moody Labrador and his insecure human take a funny, touching cross-country RV trip into the heart of America’s relationship with dogs.
New York Times Magazine writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis confesses that he doesn’t think his nine-year-old Labrador-mix, Casey, likes him very much. Over the course of four months, 32 states, and 13,000 miles in a rented motor home, Denizet-Lewis and his canine companion attempt to pay tribute to the most powerful interspecies bond in the country. In this cross-country adventure, the pair meet an irresistible cast of dogs and dog-obsessed humans. From hanging out with wolf-dogs in Appalachia to a kooky dog park in Manhattan, and even a visit to the home of “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan in California, Travels with Casey is a delightfully idiosyncratic blend of memoir and travelogue of dog-loving America.
My Travels with Mrs. Kennedy (Clint Hill)
While preparing to sell his home in Alexandria, Virginia, retired Secret Service agent Clint Hill uncovers an old steamer trunk in his garage, and a flood of memories comes spilling out. Inside are photographs, handwritten notes, personal gifts, and other treasured mementos from the trips where Hill accompanied First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy as her personal bodyguard and protector. From Paris to London, through India, Pakistan, Greece, Morocco, Mexico, South America, and more, each newfound treasure sparks long-suppressed memories and provides new insight into the life of a remarkable woman. For the first time, he reveals the depth of the relationship that developed between them as they traveled around the globe. Now ninety years old, Hill recounts the tender moments, the private laughs, the wild adventures, and the deep affection he shared with one of the world’s most beautiful and iconic women–and these memories are brought vividly to life alongside more than two hundred rare photographs, many of them previously unpublished.
The Dog Went Over the Mountain: Travels with Albie, An American Journey (Peter Zheutlin)
On the cusp of turning 65, a man and his beloved rescue dog, Albie take a poignant, often bemusing, and keenly observed journey across America and discover a big-hearted, welcoming country filled with memorable characters, a new-found appreciation for the life they (temporarily) left behind, and a determination to live more fully in the moment as old age looms. Inspired by John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley (see the top of this list!), Zheutlin hits the road for a 9,000-mile odyssey with Albie to experience all that America is and means today. Similar in approach and tone to Bill Bryson’s best-selling travel classics, with an endearing canine sidekick, The Dog Went Over the Mountain will delight dog-lovers, baby boomers, and anyone who seeks to experience life on the open road with a four-legged companion.
Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life (Daniel M. Klein)
Daniel Klein journeys to the Greek island Hydra to discover the secrets of aging happily. Drawing on the lives of his Greek friends, as well as philosophers ranging from Epicurus to Sartre, Klein learns to appreciate old age as a distinct and extraordinarily valuable stage of life. He uncovers simple pleasures that are uniquely available late in life, as well as headier pleasures that only a mature mind can fully appreciate. A travel book, a witty and accessible meditation, and an optimistic guide to living well, Travels with Epicurus is a delightful jaunt to the Aegean and through the terrain of old age led by a droll philosopher.