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Romance of the Road: 06/03/16

Romance of the Road by Ronald Primeau

Romance of the Road by Ronald Primeau is an examination of the road narrative, especially American ones from the 20th century. Primeau offers up a bunch of different reasons for the continuing fascination with road trips, both in taking them and reading about them (either real or fictional). All the different reasons, though, boil down to "the appeal is in... the carnivalesque disruption of the ordinary" (p. 15)

    Reasons to take a road trip
  • Dissatisfaction / need for change
  • Response to short history
  • Exploration of regional values
  • Exploration vs self exploration
  • Experimental narrative structures

Of especial interest to me was Primeau's lengthy analysis of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, a book I read during the hiatus of this road trip project. Keroauc's work is also the inspiration for the first season of Supernatural, a television series I am deconstructing as part of this project.

While the literary analysis in Romance of the Road is in depth and fascinating, there is at least one whopper of an incorrect fact in the history part of the book relating to the earliest days of automobile tours.

The earliest road trips were done for research (testing equipment), exploration, military transport, or public relations (advertising the new car). Some extreme enthusiasts built upon the these early expeditions to do their own record breaking feats — for instance touring an entire hemisphere or even the entire world.

When I say "around the world" you probably think "in eighty days." Now the next question. Who made that trip in Jules Verne's book? If you said "Phineas" you are incorrect; his name was Phileas Fogg. Clearly the author knew the Phineas / Phileas thing but in researching the early trips, found a quote about Gastone Steigler beginning a driving tour of Europe in which he's compared to Jules Verne creation, "Phineas Fogg" and then conflated that quote with one about the American couple Charles and Laura Glidden who spent eight years driving around the world for a grand total of 46,528 miles.

So reader beware. This book is great for literary analysis and sketchy at best for historical fact checking. You can follow my live blogging of the book on Tumblr.

Three stars

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