Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, by Hunter S. Thompson (purchase e-book)
If you’re a reader with a stomach and you also enjoy a good laugh, then this book will be great for you. It has autobiographic elements, and you can sense the honesty of the story: it could never have been written by someone who hadn’t experienced the described events himself. The novel is based on two journeys the author made with his attorney, Oscar Zeta Acosta. Their journey was in part a search for the truth behind the death of a journalist, Ruben Salazar, who was killed by the police during a march against the Vietnam War. If you are familiar with the context, you’ll find this novel interesting because it has a plot twist before it even begins. The narrator of the story and his road trip buddy (the aforementioned attorney) are abusers of drugs, so you’ll find it difficult to distinguish what really happened from what was just part of their tripping experience. The reasons why they fell into heavy drug use have been debated by readers and critics: some say they were merely self-destructive and that there was no deeper reason for why they did it; some say they were crushed by the absurd and cruel realities of the ’70s, as these years brought wars, fake values, and many injustices, so they tried to escape those realities. In the subtext of the novel, there is a quest for the American dream, but it is clear that that dream was lost in that period of history. Hopelessness and the cruelty of the world intensify the lack of meaning in the lives of both characters, as to live means to fight with yourself and with the world. In that sense, there are some philosophic moments in the novel’s story that come as verbalizations of the troubles they feel:
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…
Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), by Jerome K. Jerome (free e-book)
This book is truly a celebration of friendship and the beautiful ability of human beings – to communicate and have meaningful conversations. The story strikes an adventurous note (kind of like Huckleberry Fin) and is full of anecdotes, reminiscences, discussions about rumors, and also historical moments. At the core of the story lies the friendship between three men. They all have some level of hypochondria, as they fear every possible disease and feel they are exposed to them more than other people. After discussing their anxieties, the three friends decide they should take a vacation, along with the narrator’s dog, a fox terrier named Montmorency. The novel is set in London. The men decide to take a boat and enjoy the Thames River for a while, in order to relax and rest from their everyday lives. There is a huge gap between the country and city life, so this journey is a chance for the three men to reconnect with themselves and with nature, too. According to Jerome, a man is doomed always to wish for something he cannot have. Also, he will always believe that the grass is greener on the other side, never fully satisfied. A man is a being that is very adaptable, which is a medal with two sides: sure, that can be perceived as a good thing, but on the other hand – a man stops enjoying life as he gets bored and too familiar with situations that were once new and exciting to him. Nevertheless, this book is a light read and amusing, although it is not without a deeper meaning. Here’s a beautiful thought that will stick with you for a long time:
Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac (free e-book)
Based on Kerouac’s real travels across the USA, this is a special book to read while you’re on your road trip. It has been said that this novel influenced Hunter S. Thompson’s, both in style and in a way of approaching the topic. Just like in Fear and Loathing, here you have two friends (Sal and Dean) traveling, experiencing different drugs, often getting lost in thoughts. Here it is the late fifties, and you should keep this in mind, in order to contextualize the novel’s major themes. It is the period of the Beat Generation, fueled by drugs, alcohol, and sex. This generation changed the course of artistic evolution, mainly out of artistic and political dissatisfaction, as a reaction to technological development, in an attempt to restore individuality in the world of the 1950s. Regardless of its occasionally explicit language, this book offers you an invaluable insight to a specific period of time, and it mentions many great artists (such as Allen Ginsberg) along the way. And it will motivate you to live your life to the fullest, even though the story offers an extreme version of doing that. On the Road will reveal just how traveling can change you and support you in your own quest. After reading it, you will understand what truly matters in life. Just like Bukowski, Kerouac spoke about passionate people, amazing individuals who are worth spending time with. Many times, these people are associated with madness, since they tend to stand out opposed to the „ordinary“ world:
[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!
The Worst-Case Scenario Book of Survival Questions, by David Borgenicht and Joshua Piven (buy e-book)
This book is not a novel, but a manual for surviving. It is accompanied with illustrations that depict what you should or should not do. When I was on a road trip, my overly cautious friend brought this book with him, and we found it simply amazing and amusing. The whole car debated whether or not a solution to a certain problem was realistic, could you stay calm in a life threatening situation in order to follow those instructions, what was the probability that you could actually manage to do so, etc. In the preface, the authors disclaim any responsibility and advise you to consult an expert in order to get reliable advice on how you should act in life threatening situations. However, this survival guide was written with the help of Mel Davis, a survival instructor and former U.S. Navy SEAL, with over thirty years of experience in extreme situations. The whole book is based on three simple words – you never know. You honestly never know in what kind of trouble you might find yourself, so why shouldn’t you be prepared, just in case? The book covers many different situations – how to get out of quicksand, how to break down a door or into a car, how to start a car without a key, how to defend yourself from a shark or an alligator, how to jump safely off a cliff into a river, how to jump out of a running car, how to survive if you get lost in the mountains, how to land a plane, etc. There are also descriptions of some situations you might think are unlikely to happen (in the sense that you need to fight for your life), such as – how to win at fencing. Here’s a short version of what to do if you get bitten by a viper:
- Rinse out the bite with soap and water as quickly as you can.
- Immobilize the area of the bite and keep it as low as you can, that will slow down the flow of the venom to the heart.
- Seek medical help as soon as you can.
- If you’re not able to seek medical help within half an hour, firmly wrap the bandage 5 to 10 cm above the bite, so that you slow down the flow of the venom.
- If you happen to have a pump in your first aid kit, follow the instructions that go along with it as that will help you to extract the poison from the wound without making a cut.
Pretty neat, don’t you think?
Kokology2: More of the Game of Self-Discovery, by Tadahiko Nagao and Isamu Saito (buy e-book)
Kokology is a popular Japanese pop-psych quiz game. It includes a series of psychological games that are designed to reveal the emotional and other characteristics of the players. The authors, Nagao and Saito, have published two books that are basically the same in their structures, but I find the second book more amusing, since its games are comparatively intriguing and fun. The book is divided into sections and includes short stories that present different situations. First, the questioner reads the story, and then he asks several questions that are written beneath it. Then, there is a solution key after the questions, where you can read about your psychological or emotional profile. It is light, kind of fun, and what is amazing is the fact that kokology is mostly right! Many different situations are displayed in front of you: they are open and can be resolved in various ways. Kokology will show you who you are based on the choices you make. Here’s what the author Nagao has to say about this:
Kokology is a way of communication. Many people get frightened or they frown when they hear “psychological test”. Even I, as a psychologist, don’t like these two words! But these psychological games make the process of discovery interesting and fun, plus people are less scared when this experience is in the form of a game. In kokology, it is completely fine if you disagree with the way your answers are interpreted or if you find it silly or improbable – it’s all part of the game.
Here’s one of the situations from the book: a beautiful blue bird flies into your room, and now she cannot get out. She triggers warm emotions in you, maybe because of her extraordinary color, and you decide to keep her. However, the next day – the bird turns yellow! The following day it’s fiery red! And on the fourth day, it turns completely black. What color is your bird on the next day? When you choose one of the offered answers, you can find out more about yourself and your perspective on the world.
So, there you have it: five different books you can carry with you on your road trip. Two of them can become a fun group activity during the trip, the rest you can contemplate on your own. May all of them complement your traveling experience perfectly!