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A Reading List for The Levee: A Photographer in The American South

When we heard about The Levee: A Photographer in The American South, a new exhibit opening October 5 at Cincinnati Art Museum, it inspired us to comb through the stacks for books about road trips. Like the journey photographer Sohrab Hura took in 2016, documented in The Levee, these books explore the ideas of both road trips and the South.

  • On The Road, Jack Kerouac: Based on Kerouac’s travels around the U.S. with his friends, this iconic novel crisscrosses the country as its protagonists, Dean Moriarty, Sal Paradise and Marylou, search for meaning in post-war America.
  • Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck: Charley is Steinbeck’s standard poodle and his companion for a 1960 road trip around the United States. Steinbeck had been writing fiction about the American people for years, but this book chronicles his quest to see, feel and hear the real America.
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward: Set in the Mississippi Delta, this Southern Gothic novel follows a family road trip full of secrets and ghosts. No one writes as elegantly and compassionately as Ward about this region.
  • As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner: This is the story of one family’s trials and travels to honor their mother’s wishes to be buried in her birthplace, Jefferson County, Mississippi.
  • Angels, Denis Johnson: Johnson’s critically acclaimed debut novel charts the course of a highway odyssey taken by runaway wife Jamie Mays and Bill Houston, an ex-Navy man, ex-con. The pair head west fueled by booze and dark desires.
  • Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon: Curious about “those little towns that get on the map — if they get on at all — only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon; Simplicity, Virginia; New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi,” Heat-Moon sets out to discover the real America.
  • The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson: In 1987, after a decade living in and writing about England, Bryson returned to America for his father’s funeral in Des Moines, Iowa, and decided it was time to travel his home country. This book, peppered with funny, sometimes cranky, often funny observations, chronicles the ensuing road trip.
  • A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins: In 1979, Jenkins walked from Alfred, New York, to New Orleans, Louisiana, and wrote about his journey. “I started out searching for myself and my country,” Jenkins said, “and found both.”
  • The Weight of This World, David Joy: Set in the mountains of North Carolina, Joy’s novel tells the story of a drug-fueled trip undertaken by Thad Broom, an Afghanistan veteran, and his best friend, Aiden McCall, an out-of-work construction worker.
  • Swamplandia!, Karen Russell: In this darkly weird and lyrical debut novel, teenaged Ava Bigtree sets off on a mission into the swamps of Southwest Florida to save her family and Swamplandia!, the alligator-wrestling theme park they call home.

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