Armchair Roadtrip: The Great River Road

Shows books set along route of road trip following the Mississippi River
A long, road trip is a classic summer experience. But if you can’t fit your road trip in, why not read your way along a route. This Armchair Roadtrip takes us along the Great River Road following the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota to its end in the Gulf of Mexico. We make stops with fictional books with a strong sense of place in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, and Louisiana. And while we move from place to place, the settings slowly change but themes often remain the same: home and family.


The Mississippi begins its journey in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, and we start our reading journey in a similar setting–a cabin in the Minnesota wilderness with Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen. This family story spreads from the 1930s to the 1970s, and tells the story of a man trying to find his half-sister who was given away as a baby, and their attempt to make sense of a tragic past and heal, all set in this ramshackle cabin in Evergreen, Minnesota.


As we drive into Minnesota’s southern neighbor, we revisit a much beloved sports story, Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella (the basis for the movie Field of Dreams). “If you build it, he will come.” With these words, Ray is inspired to build a ballpark for his hero in the middle of Iowa. A nostalgic look at one of America’s most beloved sports as much as family and what it means to come home.


We continue our journey south along the western border of Illinois as we visit small-town Illinois in 1928 in the semi-autobiographical Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Dandelion Wine is the story of one, glorious summer in the town of Green Town, Illinois, seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding. Nostalgic, with beautiful prose and a touch of magic, this coming-of-age story might just remind you what summers felt like when you were young.


Next stop on our grand, summer road trip is Arkansas with The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. In Wingfield’s book, we dive into a family drama set in the heat of summer. Samuel Lake is a preacher who lives by a strict moral code. But after a series of tragedies during his family’s annual reunion at “the old home place,” Samuel’s morals are called into question after he discovers his daughter hiding a young boy from his abusive father.


After miles of reading, we reach the final leg of our journey with Cane River by Lalita Tademy. In this moving story, Tademy tells the story of one family by following four generations of women living along the Cane River is rural Louisiana from slavery to the Twentieth Century. You’ll be moved by the stories of these smart, resourceful, hardworking women, based on the author’s own family history.


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