Summer break is a popular time for travel among Penn’s students, faculty, and staff alike. But even if you’re spending the next few months in Philadelphia, you can explore new places and spaces with our reading and viewing recommendations on the theme of travel. From the classic cross-country road trip to flights around the world, the stories we’ve recommended this month provide insights into a plethora of lives and experiences. Join a traveling circus, tear across New Mexico, fall in love on the road, or learn about driving under Jim Crow, all without leaving the comfort of your seat.
You can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.
Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.
Detours: Songs of the Open Road by Salil Tripathi
When Salil Tripathi began writing a newspaper travel column, he consciously decided to veer off the beaten track and not showcase the food and drink or the fabulous hotels and world-class restaurants of a country. Instead, it was his insights into a place that defined a country and its people when viewed from the prism of history, culture and literature. In this remarkable travel diary, Tripathi holds the reader’s hand and takes them through fascinating journeys which they make their own by the end of his travel.
The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong by Stephen Graham Jones
This novel by the renowned horror writer plunders, in a gleeful, two-fisted fashion, the myth and pop-culture surrounding the American Indian. It is a story fueled on pot fumes and blues, borrowing and distorting the rigid conventions of the traditional western. With the aid of car thief Charlie Ward, half-blood protagonist Pidgin crisscrosses a wasted New Mexico, straying through bars, junkyards, and rodeos, evading the cops, and tearing through barriers. The Fast Red Road—A Plainsong blazes a trail through the puppets and mirrors of myth, meeting the unexpected at every turn, and proving that the past—the texture of the road—can and must be changed.
Genus Americanus: Hitting the Road in Search of America's Identity by Loren Ghiglione
A 27-year-old Northwestern journalism professor and two of his students climbed into a minivan and embarked on a three-month, 28-state, 14,063-mile road trip in search of America’s identity. After interviewing 150 Americans about contemporary identity issues, they wrote this book, which is part oral history, part shoe-leather reporting, part search for America’s future, part memoir, and part travel journal. Their interviews focused on issues of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and immigration status. What they learned along the way paints an engaging portrait of the country during this crucial moment of ideological and political upheaval.
Border Less by Namrata Poddar
Border Less traces the migratory journey of Dia Mittal, an airline call center agent in Mumbai who is searching for a better life. As her search takes her to the United States, Dia’s checkered relationship with the American Dream dialogues with the experiences and perspectives of a global South Asian community across the class spectrum. What connects the novel’s web of brown border-crossing characters is their quest for belonging and a negotiation of power struggles, mediated by race, class, caste, gender, religion, nationality, age, or place. With its fragmented form, staccato rhythm, repetition, and play with English language, Border Less questions the “mainstream” Western novel and its assumptions of good storytelling.
Don't Think Twice: Adventure and Healing at 100 Miles Per Hour by Barbara Schoichet
Within six months, Barbara Schoichet lost everything: her job, her girlfriend of six years, and her mother to pancreatic cancer. Her life stripped bare, and armed with nothing but a death wish and a ton of attitude, Schoichet pursues an unlikely method of coping. At the age of 50 she earns her motorcycle license, buys a Harley on eBay from two guys named Dave, and drives it alone from New York to Los Angeles on a circuitous trek loosely guided by her H.O.G. tour book and a whole lot of road whimsy .On the open highway, Schoichet battles physical limitations and inner demons on a journey that flows through the majestic Appalachian Mountains, the enchanting Turquoise Trail, and all along America’s iconic Route 66. She is vulnerable but sassy, broken but determined to heal . . . or die trying.
In this 2021 film set in Iran, a family navigates a road trip full of conflicting emotions. Dad has a broken leg and a mood to match while Mum fusses over her two children — one a taciturn adult, the other an ebullient 6-year-old — and their sick dog. As the destination draws closer, the claustrophobia in the car grows alongside the love they have for each other.
Victor is a 20-something ex-diving champion now working in a furniture factory and living with his sick grandmother in a seaside town in Greece. Distraught after her death, he decides to dust off her old car and travel to Germany to visit his estranged mother. On the ferry to Italy, he meets Matthias, a talkative, inquisitive young German who is on his way home. Matthias persuades Victor to take him along and as they drive north, Victor's uptight, repressive personality clashes with the more free-spirited Matthias. But they soon find common emotional ground as their summer road trip takes unexpected turns.
In this Oscar-winning 1956 Italian classic, Gelsomina is sold by her mother into the employ of Zampanò, a brutal strongman in a traveling circus. When Zampanò encounters an old rival in highwire artist the Fool, his fury is provoked to its breaking point. With La Strada, director Federico Fellini left behind the familiar signposts of Italian neorealism for a poetic fable of love and cruelty, evoking brilliant performances and winning the hearts of audiences and critics worldwide.
Note: This Criterion Collection film can also be streamed through the Penn Libraries subscription to Kanopy.
This PBS documentary examines the history of African Americans on the road from the early 1900’s through the 1960’s and beyond. The film explores deeply embedded dynamics of race, space, and mobility in America, focusing in particular on the experience of African Americans navigating the nation’s highways during the last four decades of Jim Crow: one of the most crucial, turbulent and transformative periods in American history. With urgent and powerful reverberations in American society today, this riveting history provides a crucial window on issues of class, automobile culture, discrimination, and national identity.
In a world where ghosts are real and front-page news, a controversial new medical procedure allows people to track themselves in the afterlife. In the midst of this breakthrough, two strangers harboring dark secrets race across the country to join the contentious study and leave their lives behind, only to unexpectedly find what they’ve been missing along the way.