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June 17, 2009

Jennifer E. Smith on Family Summer Roadtrips

Posted by webmaster
Below, Jennifer E. Smith --- author of THE COMEBACK SEASON and YOU ARE HERE --- recalls childhood memories of her travels from the back seat of the family car and reminds us about the one thing we shouldn't forget to pack on our next road trip.


My newest novel, YOU ARE HERE, is a road trip story. And I’ve found that when you write one of these, you get a lot of people asking the obvious question: what’s your own favorite road trip story?

I have to say, I’ve taken a lot of really great road trips. My family was pretty big on these growing up, and I’ve been to 46 of the 50 states, many of them in the back seat of the Smith family minivan. When I was a kid, we’d take a few weeks each summer to travel around a region of the country, never staying in one place for more than a night, always on the road for long hours in between national parks or monuments.

There are so many memories from these trips, so many sights seen and pictures taken, but the one thread that seems to run through each and every one of them is the sound of my parents yelling at me from the front seat to put down my book and look out the window.Link

Now, this isn't to say I didn't appreciate the mountains and the rivers and the trees. Because I did. They were beautiful. But, man, there were a lot of them. And one tree is sort of like the next one after awhile. They all start to blend together.

It wasn’t that the rest of my family didn’t like to read or anything. It was just that none of them could understand how I could sit in the back of the van with my nose in a book while we drove past some of America's most beautiful scenery.

To me, it seemed a natural choice. When else were you lucky enough to have so many uninterrupted hours of reading time? Besides, it wasn't like I didn't glance up every now and then. And each time we pulled into another scenic overlook to read some roadside plaque about rainfall statistics or erosion, I'd dog-ear my page and file out of the car along with the others. But deep down, I was always more interested in returning to another kind of scenery, the landscapes in my books, which were every inch as real to me as the ones scrolling by out the window.

I probably missed a few mountains along the way, it's true. And maybe even a landmark or two. But I think what I got was even better. I didn't just see the Rocky Mountains; I also saw the Ozarks along with Billy in WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS. And I didn't just peer down at the moon-like rocks of the Badlands; I took in the entire prairie alongside Laura Ingalls Wilder. Books are a kind of journey in and of themselves, and rather than take away from my travels, they've always enhanced them.

So, if you’re ever on your way to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, be sure to bring along a good book or two. And if someone tells you to look out the window, make sure you do. But also be sure to hold your place on the page. You wouldn’t want to miss anything.

-- Jennifer E. Smith