Hysterical Love: Books for a Road Trip and Beyond by Lorraine Devon Wilke
In my new novel, Hysterical Love, the protagonist, Dan, finds himself floundering after a series of major life events, and sets off a road trip in a quest for answers. Which left me thinking about what books are perfect for a road trip, yet fit specifically into the narrative of Hysterical Love? Certainly any road trip is ripe for good reading, but a major element of Dan’s character is that he’s the son of a retired American Literature teacher, one who endowed him with a love of words and books, and turned him into an avid reader of both classics and contemporary fiction. Compiling a Hysterical Love reading list becomes, then, a simple task of literary intuition!
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: No book list of an American literature lover is complete without this Steinbeck classic. Written in 1939 and a winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award, The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family, poor farmers who left Oklahoma during the Depression, forced out by the “Dust Bowl” drought and desperate for a new life in California. Not exactly a light-hearted road read, but for someone drawn to the classics, the gritty, heartfelt narrative of one of the most difficult “road trips” in history will surely hold the attention of the deeper reader. I wrote my senior year term paper on Steinbeck and found this particular book to be my favorite of his many.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Early on in the story, Dan makes mention that he’s currently reading this rather dense Russian classic, the story of the existentially conflicted Rodion Raskolnikov, a destitute former student who ponders the notion of killing an corrupt pawnbroker for her money, convinced the good he could do with it outweighs the evil of murder. Originally written in twelve monthly segments for a literary journal in 1899, it was later released as a full novel to great acclaim. Again, not a lighthearted read, but it directly reflects the taste of Hysterical Love’s protagonist, who tends to view life through a somewhat ponderous filter himself. This was one of my personal favorites during my high school years spent reading the classics.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Say what you will about the banality of Dan Brown’s writing (and many do!), as a former Catholic brought up with the many arcane and mysterious beliefs and tenets of that Church, I found this fast-paced thriller undeniably riveting. Written in 2003, it became an instant bestseller (as well as a movie starring Tom Hanks), following the nail-biting adventures of Professor Robert Langdon and French cryptographer, Sophie Neveu, as their investigation of the ghoulish murder of her grandfather leads to ever-more terrifying twists and turns. This is a perfect road read—a page-turning thriller—but also perfect for this particular list, as Dan mentions early on how his father, formerly a reader “of the most erudite of literature,” now stacks his bedstand with “James Patterson and Dan Brown.”
Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson: In keeping with that comment, one must surely include some James Patterson! I’ve never read a Patterson novel myself, and have found his oft-reported diatribes at the expense of self-published and authors to be a bit self-serving and myopic. But he is a popular writer, and Dan does mention him as one of his father’s favorites, so I think we have to give him a nod. I looked through a list of his titles and this one popped out as one I’d likely give a read. It has an interesting premise: “Katie Wilkinson’s boyfriend Matt dumps her; not a total cad, he leaves her a gift, a diary kept by Suzanne, his first wife, for their son Nicholas. Though it’s not exactly the diamond ring Katie was hoping for, she’s unable to make herself destroy the diary–against her better judgment, Katie begins to read….” See? I’m already intrigued!
The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron: Likely every creative person who’s ever pondered their artistic impulses has heard, skimmed, or diligently read this book. Written in 2002 by Julie Cameron (famously known for being Martin Scorsese’s wife from 1975-1977), this “how-to” manual became a bible of sorts for both struggling artists and newbies looking for emotional permission to walk the artistic walk, and developed an almost cultish following in the process. I read this book many years ago and briefly applied some of its lessons, which I found generally uplifting and useful. Some, however, use it like a personal diary and revere it as an existential road map! It’s a perfect addition for the Hysterical Love list: not only is it an easy read that doesn’t require page-to-page attention, but it’s one of the books Fiona, the beautiful herbalist Dan meets in Oakland, suggests as recommended reading.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz: Sticking, for a moment, with Fiona’s personal recommendations, The Four Agreements is the first book she suggests to Dan. A small but enduring read, it explores dreams, visions, and Toltec-based cosmography in its mission to define a simple but transformative code of conduct. While Dan is not immediately drawn to this type of reading, road trippers and spiritual explorers might find its small size and simple text an easy way to occupy the mind and inspire the soul.
Humanity: A Celebration of Friendship, Family, Love & Laughter, edited by Geoff Blackwell: Dan is a photographer, went to one of the best art schools in the country; he works as a portrait photographer and speaks often about the art, craft and commerce of photography, including his confusion about how to keep the artistry in his craft while making a living. It seems only fitting, then, that we include on the list what is considered one of the most beautiful photography books available: “This stunning treasury of color and black-and-white photographs was sourced from a major international photography competition to find extraordinary and geographically diverse photographs that celebrate humanity’s moments of intimacy, laughter, and kinship.” Seems like the perfect book to spend time with on a road trip.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Biography by Pierre Assouline: With another nod to Dan’s profession, this biography makes the list. Dan refers to this iconic street photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, a man who is known as the “father of photojournalism,” as a mentor. Cartier-Bresson defined a term that has become a photographic standard: the “decisive moment,” that exact blink, that temporary second, when something human and real occurs, never to be replicated and, therefore, deeply worthy of photographic capture. Incredible photos to peruse and enjoy are another road trip pleasure.
Straight Man by Richard Russo: Dan makes note that, beyond the classics, he appreciates good contemporary fiction. He’s also a man in the middle of an early mid-life crisis (at thirty-three, he has jumped the gun a bit!). Taking both points into consideration, Straight Man becomes a perfect choice for our road trip. Russo is one of the premier writers of fiction, and his story of an university professor’s knee-deep plunge into his own mid-life crisis is deeply moving and utterly hysterical, so much so that even during a virulent bout of the flu, my husband laughed out loud countless times while reading this favorite of mine. Frankly, it belongs on any list!
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby: As our last entry, Nick Hornby’s biting, hilarious, and utterly human tale of a “pop music junkie” who owns a record store and uses music to sort out the ups and downs of his life is a perfect fit. When his girlfriend leaves him, and he’s left to ponder the many conundrums to be considered between a life of singledom or one of commitment, it becomes a narrative that mirrors some elements of Dan’s own. It’s also funny and quick-witted, which makes it another perfect road read.
And that’s the list! Enjoy the selections and, certainly, enjoy reading Hysterical Love (which, I assure you, reads just as well on the road as it does at home!)
Lorraine Devon Wilke is a storyteller in whatever avenue of the arts she’s exploring: photography, music, and, of course, her writing. Whether her blog, The Huffington Post, her photography or her original music, her mission is always to find the heart of the narrative. Her debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, and short story, “She Tumbled Down,” were 2014 successes, while 2015 brings the launch of her second novel, Hysterical Love (available at Amazon and Smashwords). Visit her site for all links and info.
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