clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

This 'obsessively detailed' map of road-trips in American literature is like a vacation you can take at work

And educational!

Fox Searchlight

A new project from Atlas Obscura's Richard Kreitner and Steven Melendez painstakingly charts and captions every stop on 12 different classics of American road-trip literature. The resultant interactive map is a thing of wonder.

Let me explain my excitement — the road-trip is the one truly lovable, completely pure thing about American culture. Whatever else makes us gross and bad, our landscapes are beautiful, and our kitsch is the best in the world, and you can't fault anyone for wanting to see as much of it as possible. But no one has time to go on 12 road-trips a year.

Enter: books and pop music.

You can follow Mark Twain's pre-railroad, transcontinental trip in Roughing It (which is, admittedly, a road-trip exclusive to off-roads); the freewheeling, freebasing classic On the Road; and — the only example of a female-narrated experience on the map — the more recent journey of Cheryl Strayed in Wild (again, more of a trail-trip).

One classic, however, is missing: Lolita. Kreitner proactively defends himself saying, "Lolita's road-trip passages are scattered and defiant of cartographical order."

The road trip is the most lovable thing about America

I set out last night to test his theory that Lolita wasn't suited to a project of this sort, because I had to, because Lolita is the greatest novel ever written by a person who once taught at my alma mater and whose work was ruthlessly shoved down my throat. You could say I hit a road block:

Roughly, during that mad year (August 1947 to August 1948), our route began with a series of wiggles and whorls in New England, then meandered south, up and down, east and west; dipped deep into ce qu'on appelle Dixieland, avoided Florida because the Farlows were there, veered west, zigzagged through corn belts and cotton belts; crossed and recrossed the Rockies, straggled through southern deserts where we wintered; reached the Pacific, turned north through the pale lilac fluff of flowering shrubs along forest roads; almost reached the Canadian border; and proceeded east, across good lands and bad lands, back to agriculture on a grand scale, avoiding, despite little Lo's strident remonstrations, little Lo's birthplace, in a corn, coal and hog producing area; and finally returned to the fold of the East, petering out in the college town of Beardsley.

No, Beardsley College is not a real place.

So, what Kreitner says is true, and is in fact, a signature characteristic of the novel. Humbert Humbert, even in his best efforts to come clean, often trolls the jury with vague statements and flowery overtures. If you're really interested in a best approximation of his journey, this blogger sure dedicated 8 to 10 years of his or her life to that.

Do we think that all-inclusive tour bus vacations of the great American road trips is a good / profitable-sounding idea?