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Great Canadian Road Trips
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Great Canadian Road Trips

By 49thShelf
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tagged: road trips
As summer begins, we start thinking about getting on the road and travelling somewhere. Not every road trip is a holiday idyll, however—some are for fun, others born of crisis and desperation. The books on this list (fiction and non) run the gamut. All of these will take you somewhere. See anything missing? Tweet us to get more Canadian road trips added to the list.
The Flying Troutmans

The Flying Troutmans

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Hardcover Paperback

The Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize-winning, #1 national bestselling novel by Miriam Toews is now available in a stunning new package.

     "Yeah, so things have fallen apart."

     Min is sick, Logan is going through some stuff, Thebes is trying to hold everything together (but she's eleven), and Hattie is trying to get over her breakup with Marc. When her stay in Paris is cut short by news that her sister Min is in the psychiatric ward, twenty-eight-year-old Hattie returns home to Winnipeg t …

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Excerpt

one

yeah, so things have fallen apart. A few weeks ago I got a collect call from my niece, Thebes, in the middle of the night, asking me to please come back to help with Min. She told me she’d been trying to take care of things but it wasn’t working any more. Min was stranded in her bed, hooked on blue torpedoes and convinced that a million silver cars were closing in on her (I didn’t know what Thebes meant either), Logan was in trouble at school, something about the disturbing stories he was writing, Thebes was pretending to be Min on the phone with his principal, the house was crumbling around them, the back screen door had blown off in the wind, a family of aggressive mice was living behind the piano, the neighbours were pissed off because of hatchets being thrown into their yard at all hours (again, confusing, something to do with Logan) . . . basically, things were out of control. And Thebes is only ­eleven.

I told her I’d be there as soon as I could. I had no choice. There was no question. Our parents are dead. Min didn’t have anybody else. And in just about every meaningful way, neither did I. Admittedly, I would have preferred to keep roaming around Paris pretending to be an artist with my moody, ­adjective-­hating boyfriend, Marc, but he was heading off to an ashram in India anyway and said we could communicate telepathically. I tried it a couple of days before he left. I love you, don’t go, I said silently, without moving my lips. He was standing next to me, trying to photograph a gargoyle. You’re a little in my way, he said. Can you move? No amount of telepathy worked with him, but maybe you have to be thousands of miles away from someone in order for your thoughts to work up the speed and velocity required to hit their ­target.

At the airport, Thebes came running over to me dressed entirely in royal blue terry cloth, short shorts and cropped top, and covered in some kind of candy necklace powder. The empty elastic was still around her throat. Or maybe she wore that thing all the time. She had fake tattoos all over her arms and her hair was intense purple, matted and wild, and she melted into me when I put my arms around her and tried to lift her off the ­ground.

Hey, you crazy kid, I said. How are you? She couldn’t talk because she was crying too hard. How are you, Thebie? I asked again. How are things? I didn’t have to ask her. I had a pretty good idea. I let her wrap herself around me and then I carried her over to a plastic airport chair, sat down with her sprawled in my lap, all arms and legs, like a baby giraffe, and let her cry.

How’s the songwriting going? I finally whispered in her ear. I really liked that line . . . take a verse, Mojo . . . you know? I said. She was always ­e-­mailing me her lyrics and cc’ing David Geffen on ­them.

She frowned. She wiped the snot off her face with the back of her hand, then onto her shorts. I’m more into martial arts now, and ­yo-­yoing, she said. I need to get out of my ­head.

Yeah, I said. Using your kung fu powers for ­good?

Well, she said, I feel good when I flip ­people.

Hey, I said, where’s your ­brother?

She told me he was outside waiting in the van because he didn’t know how to work the parking and also he didn’t actually have his driver’s licence, only his learner’s, he’s fifteen, he’s all jacked up on rebellion and whatever, he just wanted to wait in the van and listen to his ­music.

We headed for the exit and kind of stumbled around, falling over each other. Thebes kept her arm wrapped around my waist and tried to help me with my bag. All I had was one large backpack. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying but it didn’t really matter anyway. I’d lost my boyfriend and didn’t care about my job and there was no reason to go back to Paris. I didn’t own anything besides books, and Marc could keep those if he wanted ­to.

It was sunny and warm and the sky was a sharp, cartoony blue compared to the wet clay skies of Paris, and there was Logan sitting in their ­beat-­up van staring straight ahead at something, not us, music blasting from inside, like the van was a giant Marshall amp. Thebes ran up to the van and threw herself against the windshield. Logan snapped out of his rock ’n’ roll reverie for a second and smiled. Then he got out of the van and walked, glided, over to me and gave me a big hug with one arm and asked me how it was ­going.

All right, I said, how about ­you?

Mmmm, he said. He ­shrugged.

Hey, what’s this? I asked him. I grabbed his arm and squeezed his ­bicep.

Yeah, right, said ­Thebes.

And, dude, your pants! I said. Did you steal them from Andre the Giant? I snapped the elastic band on his boxers. Logan opened the door to the van and threw my stuff ­in.

How was Paris? he ­asked.

What? I ­said. Oh, Paris?

Yeah, he said. How was ­it?

Thebes turned down the volume on the music. Then she told me I should drive instead of Logan. She said she’d been planning her funeral on the way ­there.

I got dumped, I ­said.

No way! said ­Logan.

Well, yeah, I ­said.

You can’t get dumped in Paris, said Logan. Isn’t it supposed to be all–
By a guy or a girl? asked ­Thebes.

A guy, I ­said.

Logan stared hard at Thebes for a few seconds. He said you were gay, she ­said.

No I didn’t, said ­Logan.

You totally did! said ­Thebes.

Okay, Thebes, listen, said Logan. I didn’t–

Hey, I said. It’s okay. It really doesn’t matter. Really. But it was a ­guy.

But you’re not that old, said Thebes, right? You can still find someone if you look hard. How old are ­you?
Twenty-­eight, I ­said.

Okay, ­twenty-­eight, she said. She thought for a second. You have like two years, she said. Maybe you should dress up more, ­though.

Logan ended up driving back to their house because I didn’t know how to tell him not to and because he hadn’t seemed interested in relinquishing control of the wheel anyway. Logan and Thebes yelled at each other all the way back, the music cranked the whole ­time.

Thebes: Stay in your lane, moron!

Logan: Don’t lose your fucking shit, man!

Thebes: I don’t want to die, loser! Use two hands!

Logan: Do NOT grab the steering wheel!

Then Thebes went into this strange kind of commentary thing she does, quoting the imaginary people in her head. This time it was a funeral director, I think. She said: With an impact this severe there is not a hope of reconstructing this kid’s face. She banged the back window with her ­fist.

What was that? I asked ­her.

The lid of my coffin slamming down, she said. Closed casket. I’ll be unrecognizable ­anyway.
It was great to see the kids again. They’d changed a bit, especially Logan. He was a young man now, not a child. More on his mind, maybe, but with less compulsion to share it. Thebes was more manic than the last time I’d seen her. I knew what that was about. It’s hard not to get a little hysterical when you’re trying desperately to keep somebody you love alive, especially when the person you’re trying to save is ambivalent about being saved. Thebes reminded me of myself when I was her age, rushing home from school ahead of Min so I could create the right vibe, a mood of happiness and fun that would sustain her for another day, or so I thought. I’d mentally rehearse what I thought were amusing anecdotes to entertain her, make her laugh. I didn’t know then that all my ridiculous efforts only brought her further down. Sometimes she would laugh or applaud ­half-­heartedly, but it was always with an expression that said, yeah, whatever, Hattie, nice try, but everything is ­bullshit.

––

My birth triggered a seismic shift in my sister’s life. The day I was born she put her dress on backwards and ran away towards a brighter future, or possibly towards a brighter past. Our parents found her in a tree next door. Had she been planning to jump? She’s been doing that ever since, travelling in two opposite directions at once, towards infancy and death. I don’t know exactly what it was about me. By all accounts before I existed Min was a normal little girl, normal enough. She could pick a direction and stick with it. Our family photo albums are filled, halfway, with shots of Min laughing and smiling and enjoying life. And then, suddenly, I’m in the picture and Min’s joy evaporates. I’ve spent hours staring at those photos trying to understand my sister. Even in the ones in which I don’t appear it’s easy to see by Min’s expression that I am just beyond the lens, somewhere nearby.

Min’s had good days, some inexplicable breaks from the madness, periods of time where she functions beautifully and life is as smooth as glass, almost. The thing I remember most clearly about Cherkis, Thebes’s and Logan’s dad, is how nuts he was about Min and how excited he’d get when Min was on the ­up-­and-­up, taking care of business and acting normal. I liked that about him, but it also broke my heart because he had no idea of the amount of shit that was about to fly. Eventually, though, he did come to understand, and he did what I did, and what so many others in her life have ­done.

He ­left.

Min had a vague notion of where he’d gone. At first it was Tokyo, about as far away as you can get from here without being on your way back. He moved around the Pacific Rim, and then Europe for a while, South America, and then South Dakota. He’d call sometimes to see how the kids were doing, how Min was doing, if she wanted him to come back. No, she didn’t, she said, every time. And if he tried to take the kids she’d kill herself for real. We didn’t know whether this was a bluff or not, but nobody wanted to challenge it. They were all she had, she told him. Cherkis wasn’t the type of guy to hire a lawyer and fight for custody. He told Min he’d wait until the kids were old enough to decide for themselves and take things from there. He didn’t want to rock Min’s boat. He didn’t want anybody getting ­hurt.

I moved to Paris, fled Min’s dark planet for the City of Lights. I didn’t want to leave her and the kids but the truth is she scared me and I thought she might be better off without me, too. Especially if I was the embodiment of her particular anguish. It had been hard to know whether to stay or go.

It’s impossible to move through the stages of grief when a person is both dead and alive, the way Min is. It’s like she’s living permanently in an airport terminal, moving from one departure lounge to another but never getting on a plane. Sometimes I tell myself that I’d do anything for Min. That I’d do whatever was necessary for her to be happy. Except that I’m not entirely sure what that would ­be.

So the next best thing to being dead was being far away, at least as far as Paris. I had a boyfriend, Marc, and a job in a bookstore, and occasionally I’d go home, back to Manitoba, to Min and Thebes and Logan, for Christmas or the odd birthday, or to help with Min if she was in a really bad patch, but of course that was complicated because I never knew whether I should be there or ­not.

I wanted to be an artist, in Paris, or a psychiatrist. Sometimes I’d haul a giant pad of sketch paper and some charcoal pencils to the square in front of the Louvre or wherever the tourists were and I’d offer to sketch them for free. I didn’t feel right about charging anybody, because I wasn’t really doing a good job. In every sketch, it didn’t matter if I was drawing the face of a man or a woman or a kid, I’d include a detail from Min’s face, from what I could remember at that precise moment. Sometimes it was the shape of her eyebrows, or her wide lips, or a constellation of tiny freckles, or even just a shadow beneath the cheekbone. The people I sketched were always slightly confused and disappointed when I showed them my work, I could tell, but most of them were kind, especially because I didn’t expect any ­payment.

Our father died in a drowning accident in Acapulco when Min and I were kids. He drowned trying to save us. We’d been racing and had swum out farther than we should have and Min had started panicking, screaming for help. The current was strong and we couldn’t get back to the shore no matter how hard we pushed against the water. I remember yelling at Min to move sideways and to let go of me. After that, my memory of events is blurry. I have a feeling that Min was pushing me down, under water. I think that I remember her hand on my head, or on my shoulder, but maybe I’m wrong. Our mother told us that Dad had heard our screams and had swum out to get us, but that he too had got caught in the undertow and disappeared. They said it was a riptide. Other people on the beach eventually grabbed a boat from somewhere and rescued us, but by then Dad was gone. Min was fifteen and I was nine. They left us lying in the sun on the beach, crying and vomiting up salt water, while they searched for ­him.

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Almost There

Almost There

The Family Vacation, Then and Now
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

We all have memories of family vacations: the cross-country marathon drive, the camping trip, a couple lazy weeks at the lake, a helter-skelter month in Europe, four days in Disneyland. The variations may be endless, but the common denominator is that there are always stories to tell.

The family vacation, with all its funny, sad, relaxing, stressful, frustrating, and exhilarating moments, shapes us, and helps us create an understanding of who we are and of those we travel with. In his humourous …

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Sweet Jesus

Sweet Jesus

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

Christine Pountney’s dazzling and original novel, Sweet Jesus, is a work of deep feeling, wit, and piercing observation. Set mainly on Vancouver Island, in Toronto, and in the American Midwest, it tells the story of three siblings who, in the week before the 2012 US Presidential election, reunite and set off on a journey that will transform their lives.
Connie Foster, a mother of three young children, learns that her husband’s attempt to maintain their lifestyle has led them to financial ru …

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The Endangered Species Road Trip

The Endangered Species Road Trip

A Summer's Worth of Dingy Motels, Poison Oak, Ravenous Insects, and the Rarest Species in North America
edition:Paperback

Bill Bryson meets John Vaillant in this life list quest to see the rarest species in North America.

Crammed into a minivan with wife, toddler, infant, and dog, accompanied by mounds of toys, diapers, tent, sleeping bags, and other paraphernalia, Cameron MacDonald embarks on a road trip of a lifetime to observe North America's rarest species. In California, the family camps in the brutally hot Mojave, where he observes a desert tortoise?"the size and shape of a bike helmet and the colour of gravel …

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Cadillac Couches

Cadillac Couches

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Winner of a 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal

Cadillac Couches is a picaresque road trip novel that journeys from prairie to big city and back again. A quixotic tale set in the late nineties and framed by the popular Edmonton Folk Music Festival, it follows two music-smitten twentysomething women as they search for love and purpose. Annie Jones is trying to put her big love, Sullivan, behind her and squash her demons of anxiety and compulsion. In a post-fest funk, she and her more …

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Breakfast at the Exit Cafe

Breakfast at the Exit Cafe

Travels Through America
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook

What begins as a road trip through America soon becomes a journey of discovery into themselves and into the heart of the next-door neighbour they thought they knew. For Wayne Grady, the thrill of landscape and history is tempered by memories of racism and his own family roots. Merilyn Simonds, her ear tuned for the offbeat, finds curious echoes of the ex-pat promised land she grew up with. Together they travel against the tide of American history, following in the literary tire tracks of John St …

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Excerpt

from Chapter 5: Route 66

When people are asked to name a famous American highway, chances are they’ll say Route 66. I first heard of it in the 1960s, on the television series Route 66, starring George Maharis and Martin Milner as two young boyos travelling around America in a Corvette. Before that, the road was immortalized by John Steinbeck in the 1930s, by Nat King Cole in the ’40s, and by Jack Kerouac in the ’50s. The long, meandering highway was begun in 1925 to forge a continuously paved link between Chicago, Illinois, and Barstow, California, joining hundreds of hitherto disconnected small towns and dirt back roads, following river and even creek beds, heeding its own serendipitous logic as it sifted down through Arkansas and Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle before finally swinging west through New Mexico and Arizona. It was finished in 1934, just in time for the exodus of Oklahoma farmers heading to California in search of a new beginning. “The mother road,” John Steinbeck called it. “The road of flight.”

At Barstow we leave Highway 58 and get on the I-40, which has obliterated the Mother Road across much of America. Although the I-40 bears little resemblance to that mythical highway of the 1930s, it’s still a prepossessing ribbon of daylight, threading the Mojave Desert, lined with cactus and mesquite. Not a place to run out of gas, get a flat tire, or have an argument with your wife. As I recall, there are no knock-down, drag-out fights between the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath. Driving through country like this gives you a firm grasp on what’s important.

It certainly did for Steinbeck. The vast, westward migration of some 250,000 destitute farm workers became his life’s subject. In 1936, he was hired by the San Francisco News to write a seven-part feature about the massive influx of American migrant workers into the Central Valley. He called the series “The Harvest Gypsies,” and although it began as an objective report on the plight of the homeless and the helpless, it quickly became a polemic against the industrialized agricultural system that flourished as a result of engineered water and economies of scale, a system that reaped huge profits for owners but paid migrant workers starvation wages and brutally punished anyone who even thought about forming a farm workers’ union (which Cesar Chavez finally achieved in 1966).

?It is difficult to believe,” Steinbeck wrote in that series, “what one large speculative farmer has said, that the success of California agriculture requires that we create and maintain a peon class. For if this is true, then California must depart from the semblance of democratic government that remains here.”

In Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck often steps outside the fictional world of the Joad family to present detailed descriptions of Highway 66, as well as first-person chapters by used-car salesmen or truck-stop waitresses. These realistic riffs were Steinbeck’s way of bringing his readers to the understanding that what they were reading was not fiction invented out of thin air by an abstract artist, but a true account of a serious crisis in American history. By putting a face on the working class, he paved the way for the eventual success of Chavez and the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee in their struggle for human rights. It is fitting that when Chavez went on a hunger strike to protest migrant workers’ living conditions in 1968, he received a letter of support from Martin Luther King, Jr. Among King’s last public words before his assassination was the verse “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” with its implied next line: “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”

When the Joads crossed the Colorado River in their overloaded Hudson truck, they looked down on the section of California through which we’re now travelling. They saw little but “broken, rotten rock winding and twisting through dead country, burned white and grey, and no life in it.” The landscape hasn’t changed. I wouldn’t say there is no life in it, but it is certainly diminished life, toehold life, life the Joads must have understood.

Near the Pisgah Crater, we turn into what looks like an abandoned quarry or an open-pit salt mine, with a dirt track running down into a hole carved through an exposure of reddish-brown stone. Thick thorn bushes cover most of the ground. We get out and pick our way through them to the top of the quarry to look southwest, toward the setting sun. The sand still holds some heat from the day, and although a cool breeze is coming at us over the desert, we are not cold. We can hear birds, tiny peeps and quiet, cricket-like flock calls, a small family group making its way through the low shrubs and grasses, but we cannot see them.

Merilyn and I separate for a while, the first time we’ve been out of each other’s sight for days, and I find a small cup-nest set deep in a leafless Anderson thornbush that must be that of a cactus wren, a wren the size of a robin (most wrens are not much bigger than chickadees) that I would very much like to see. But there is no sign that the nest has been used lately. I call Merilyn over, and she reaches delicately into the thornbush, extracts a dun-coloured feather, and hands it to me, a gift. It is, after all, Christmas Eve.

Much about this parched interior landscape seems familiar. I’ve never been here before, but staring through the windshield at the empty desert, I realize I’ve been seeing it all my adult life, in the photographs of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank.

I reach back into the rubble of the back seat and lift out the camera.

?Want me to stop?” Wayne asks.

?No,” I say. “I’ll just roll down my window.”

In the latter half of the Thirties, the Farm Security Administration hired some of the best photographers of the day—Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, Walker Evans—to roam the country, documenting the devastation wrought by the drought. The photographers were sent out with detailed shooting scripts: “Crowded cars going out on the open road. Gas station attendant filling tank of open touring and convertible cars.” The kind of pictures I like to take.

Walker Evans had already compiled his own list of picture categories, which rivals Jefferson’s directive to Lewis and Clark in ambition and scope. It’s a useful list for any traveller out to understand a country:

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Escape Plans

Escape Plans

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook

My father drowned in the Aegean Sea, fifty nautical miles northeast of the port of Piraeus. When it happened, my mother and I were at home in Toronto. It was early evening in Greece, afternoon for us, and I was at school when she found out.

Niko Kiriakos, tentative heir to the ailing Calypso Shipping fleet, always suspected he was cursed. Following his sudden disappearance, his wife, Anna, and daughter, Zoe, are left adrift. Unmoored, they begin to test the boundaries of their lives, struggling w …

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Kiss The Sunset Pig

Kiss The Sunset Pig

A Canadian's American Road Trip With Exotic Detours
edition:Paperback
tagged :

In this lyrical, poetic, and charmingly funny book, Laurie Gough drives from Ontario to California reflecting on a life spent travelling in search of new experiences and familiar sensations. Heading towards a half-remembered cave on the Pacific coast where her younger, more adventurous self once stayed, she recalls adventures in Sumatra, the Yukon and many places in between—and wonders what compels her to keep moving through life while everyone else has found a place to belong.

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