The age-old tradition of traveling through the American landscape is inextricably bound to the stories of those who have recorded them. For decades, adventure-seekers – many of them writers – have propelled themselves across the country in search of everything and nothing. The result? A grand and chaotic potpourri of names, places and experiences difficult to collect let alone comprehend in a single breath.
Richard Kreitner and Steven Melendez saw the potential in this challenge and, in a feature for the website Atlas Obscura, have comprehensively tracked 12 of the country's most beloved and well-known literary road trips onto a map with meticulously organized quotes from the books. These range from Jack Kerouac's classic On The Road (1957) to Cheryl Strayed's more recent work Wild (2012).
The journeys, once viewed together, provide a vivid constellation of routes that diverge and converge through time. Because of the interactive nature of the map, you can track any single book's trip or zoom in and juxtapose multiple trips to see how each one described the same place differently at different times. This makes the map as impressive in its detail as it is in its scope.
Kreitner explains that this was a passion project drawing exclusively from works of literary nonfiction. As such, it doesn't possess the same level of specificity one would find in a more scientific mapping of the locations covered by the 12 selected writers. The details in the map are the result of more than 1,500 hand-typed entries that estimate the exact location of these places through the quotes in the book that describe them, he notes.
Kreitner also elaborates on his selection criteria for these particular literary journeys, stressing the need for a compatible relationship between what he calls the "narrative arc" of the books to the "geographical arc" of their respective journeys. Favorites such as Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas didn't make it to the final list.
Ultimately, what Kreitner and Melendez's painstaking catalog has given us is not only a visual depiction of a great literary tradition in America but also a deeper understanding of how this tradition has evolved through time and space. Kreitner is a big believer in travel as a means to knowledge and the intricacy of this map is just one of many examples of just how much there really is to know.
Via: Atlas Obscura