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Nightstands and Coffee Tables: Words from the Road

By Melanie Moffett
In Bayou Pages
Apr 5th, 2016

reviews by Michael DeVault

Every summer, millions of Americans will take to the roads, the tracks or the skies in search of that special memory, the trip of a lifetime or maybe just a little break from their normal world. Some paths begin with a story shared by friends over dinner, while other journeys are inspired from that deep, often unconscious, and mysterious urge to wander. For some travels, though, the impetus isn’t that difficult to find, and the next vacation starts on the pages of a book.

Whether it’s Under the Tuscan Sun and a month-long residency in Tuscany or A Walk in the Woods and hiking the Appalachian Trail, books about travel feed our own wanderlust. Memoirs illuminated the shared experience, novels road map what might come to be and travel guides help get us there safely—wherever “there” is. From the backwoods of East Texas to the foothills of the Himalayas, these three books are all you’ll need to propel you down the roads untraveled. So settle into your favorite reading chair and bon voyage!

Unexpected Texas
by Tui Snider
To call Texas big is an understatement. The state is huge, stretching at its widest point more than 730 miles and comprising virtually every possible climate and pretty much every leisure activity imaginable. In Unexpected Texas, Tui Snider takes the exploration of the Lone Star State’s unique culture to a whole different level. You just thought you understood that Texas was like a whole other country.

Weaving together anecdotes, first hand explorations and copious research, Snider outlines a series of off-the-beaten-path destinations in an Encyclopedia Texanica style. Sorted by the nearest cities—there are entries on more than a hundred tiny hamlets and burgs—Snider provides a nuts-and-bolts guide to things to do and sites to see.

If you’re traveling in Spring, take your good camera and make some roadside memories in the Texas Blue Bonnets—courtesy of former First Lady Ladybird Johnson, who lobbied a bill through to protect the demure blue flower and reseed Texas’s thousands of miles of highway medians. If you’re down in Archer City, be sure to stop by Larry McMurtry’s “book town”—a book store stretching over city blocks. And if fish are your thing, maybe catch the dive and fishing demo at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

Seven Years in Tibet
by Heinrich Harrer
In 1939, Austrian alpinist Heinrich Harrer and three mountaineering companions were detained in India by British soldiers and interned in a camp near the border. After several failed attempts, the group eventually slipped away from the camp and Harrer made his way into the primitive nation of Tibet, where his skills with languages secured him a position with the government, a time he would recount in his memoir, Seven Years in Tibet.

Before long, he found himself instructing a young 13-year-old boy in English, geography and science. These tutoring sessions began what would become one of the most famous–and unlikely–friendships in the life of the 14th Dalai Lama. For the remainder of Harrer’s life, he and the Dalai Lama would remain friends.

With the gentle hand of a gifted and skillful storyteller, Harrer takes readers on a journey through the mystical lands of Tibet and into the inner circle of one of the world’s most beguiling and beloved spiritual leaders. Within just a few pages, it’ll show you why it’s been made into a motion picture twice.

The Mother Road
by Meghan Quinn
Though she’s been out of the country for four years, Marley’s still a country girl at heart. So when her father and brother show up unexpectedly on the doorstep of her adopted California home, she’s not all together against their proposal: taking a used Winnebago on an epic journey along Route 66–the Mother Road. What she doesn’t expect is that they’re going to invite her brother’s long-time best friend, a man who had once been and will again become the object of Marley’s affections.

With equal doses of heart-wrenching pain and Animal House humor, Meghan Quinn recounts this family’s zany adventures. Quinn’s The Mother Road takes readers on the long road home and into the deepest reaches of the experience of family.

Not for the faint of heart, Quinn’s humor can sometimes border on the ghastly. Yet, there is a heartfelt truth at the center of the work, and Quinn’s novel is sure to take an appropriate place in the deep lexicon that is Route 66.