The best thing about books is that they can transport you to somewhere else entirely. One minute, you’re nestling down in bed, cup of tea in hand, the next you’re in downtown LA, running riot in the City of Angels, or staring out towards an open highway, road-tripping coast-to-coast across the US of A.
There are few places that can be brought to life like the Americas. Timeless classics like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road perfectly capture the great American road trip, while Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas teaches us everything we need to know about its glittery namesake. And no one has ever quite been able to capture the magic of LA quite like the legendary Joan Didion.
So where will your next book take you? If you’re planning a trip to America, we recommend trying one of these classic novels by incredible American authors to really set the scene. Whether you’re off to the sunny state of Los Angeles, New York City, or headed to the Deep South, make your reading companion count by investing in a classic.
If you’re visiting California : Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
This iconic collection of essays from Joan Didion documents what it was like to be a wild and free young woman living in California in the 1960s, showcasing doomed brides and acid trips, misguided millionaires and naive groupies. In particular, Joan focuses on the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, the birthplace of the 60s counterculture movement, our protagonist contemplating good and evil in a roadside motel room. Lessons will be learnt along the way, but most of all, it’s a joy to soak up the atmosphere of Joan’s distinctive prose.
Joan’s writing career spans from San Fran to LA to New York, where she currently resides. A later book of Joan’s, The Year of Magical Thinking, is also well worth a read, especially for anyone who’s experienced loss. It’s the refreshing and heart-breaking, yet uplifting, account of the year following the death of John Gregory Dunne, Joan’s husband.
If you’re visiting Las Vegas : Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
A snapshot of the chaos of America’s wildest city, this iconic novel sets the scene of Las Vegas like no other novel. It’s sure to be the most bizarre trip you’ll ever go on. Armed with an arsenal of narcotics, our unreliable and drug-addled narrator takes us through the craziness of a Las Vegas weekend. If you’ve not got time to read the novel, you could always watch the movie instead, which is directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro.
If you’re visiting New York : The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
As we enter our own roaring 20s, how appropriate that we pay homage to the original 1920s novel. A perfect tribute to New York during the Jazz Age, this timeless tale tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire and his love story with Daisy, a 1920s socialite. The story takes place between the suburbs and the city, two areas known as West and East Egg. It’s a romantic rollercoaster and allows its readers to taste the electricity of New York City in its heyday.
If you’re visiting Alabama: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
One of the all-time greats, this inspiring novel is universally loved, and for good reason. A moral tale that perfectly encapsulates the deep south of America, To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression.
The story follows Atticus Finch and his two children, Scout and Jem. It’s a coming-of-age novel told through the words of Scout, Atticus’s young daughter, as she navigates racial and class divides in small town America. It’s a moral tale, and one that gets you thinking. A must read for anyone who loves a classic.
If you’re visiting anywhere in America : On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Another defining work of the post-war beat and counterculture movement was Jack Kerouac’s On The Road; the ultimate road trip companion. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, the story follows a fictionalised account of Jack’s own journeys across America with his friend, Neal Cassidy, hitchhiking and boarding buses. Leaving behind a broken marriage, Sal and his pal Dean (loosely based on the author and Neal) leave their troubles behind and embark on a defining adventure together, travelling from New York City to San Francisco, then south to Mexico. For anyone who’s thinking of embarking on a road trip across the US, this route comes highly recommended. The sense of adventure is relentless within this novel. Reading it will undoubtedly inspire you to discover life on the open road.