America The Beautiful? By Roberson
The author of How to Date Men When You Hate Men examines Americans’ obsession with freedom, travel, and the open road in this funny, entertaining travelogue that blends the humorous observations of Bill Bryson with the piercing cultural commentary of Jia Tolentino.
For writer and comedian Blythe Roberson, there are only so many Mary Oliver poems you can read about being free, and only so many times you can listen to Joni Mitchell’s travel album Hejira, before you too, are itching to take off. Canonical American travel writers have long celebrated the road trip as the epitome of freedom. But why does it seem like all those canonical travel narratives are written by white men who have no problems, who only decide to go the desert to see what having problems feels like?
To fill in the literary gaps and quench her own sense of adventure, Roberson quits her day job and sets off on a Great American Road Trip to visit America’s national parks.
America the Beautiful? is a hilarious trip into the mind of one of the Millennial generation’s funniest writers. Borrowing her Midwestern stepfather’s Prius, she heads west to the Loop of mega-popular parks, over to the ocean and down the Pacific Coast Highway, and, in a feat of spectacularly bad timing, through the southwestern desert in the middle of July. Along the way she meets new friends on their own personal quests, learns to cope with abstinence while missing the comforts of home, and comes to understand the limits—and possibilities—of going to nature to prove to yourself and your Instagram followers that you are, in fact, free.
The result is a laugh-out-loud-while-occasionally-raging-inside travelogue, filled with meditations and many, many jokes on ecotourism, conservation, freedom, traffic, climate change, and the structural and financial inequalities that limit so many Americans’ movement. Ultimately, Roberson ponders the question: Is quitting society and going on the road about enlightenment and liberty—or is it just selfish escapism?