Sarah Dessen's most recent book is Along for the Ride.
When I was a kid, my family drove from North Carolina to Cape Cod, Mass., every summer for vacation. The trip took 14 hours or so, and despite the best planning, we were all usually ready to kill each other by Connecticut. There's just something about being in a car with your immediate family for hours on end with no options for escape that can make even the most levelheaded person consider jumping out the window.
Books offer one of the best escapes from all this togetherness. After all, you might be stuck in a station wagon on the turnpike, but a story can take you anywhere. So here are three suggestions for your next road trip.
Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time, by Valerie Bertinelli, paperback, 288 pages
When you're crammed in a car with your nearest and dearest, perspective becomes important. Which is why, first, you need a good celebrity memoir, such as Valerie Bertinelli's Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back, One Pound at a Time. Sure, your family is difficult. But imagine if you were married to Eddie Van Halen and addicted to frozen jalapeno poppers?
Bertinelli's book covers her rise as a teenage TV star in the 1970s, her young marriage to the famed guitarist, and a lifelong struggle with weight and body issues. Peppered throughout are the kind of Hollywood stories that make a great memoir, like breaking up with Steven Spielberg because he didn't like garlic, and having groupies banging on the door in the middle of the night. Spend a few hours with Bertinelli's struggles, and you'll be grateful your biggest problem is a backup on I-95.
The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule, paperback, 672 pages
When tempers flare, you might need a good cautionary tale, so be sure to pack The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule. Rule met the serial killer Ted Bundy when they were co-workers at a crisis line in the early 1970s. As a crime writer, she continued to follow his life closely once she discovered he was responsible for the murders of several young girls. Rule's chilling account includes a painstaking recap of the case details, as well as a chronicle of her contact with Bundy, which lasted until his execution. Your brother might be making you contemplate violence by constantly crossing the imaginary line you drew between yourselves on the back seat, but know this: Crime does not pay. Best to just scoot closer to the window and take a deep breath.
The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy, paperback, 672 pages
Finally, when you're sure you just can't take another second, break out the mother (so to speak) of all dysfunctional family stories — Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides. Tom Wingo is a broken man still dealing with the memories of an abusive father and a dark family secret. When his sister attempts suicide, he is forced to dig into his own past to make sense of hers. This saga of a South Carolina clan has it all: crazy mothers, violent fathers, pet tigers, sibling drama and crosses literally being borne. Conroy is an incredible storyteller, able to handle both emotion and humor with the same deft hand. Simply put, The Prince of Tides is a dark, crazy masterpiece, and when you finish, you'll have that much more appreciation for your own family and their more minor idiosyncrasies.
In fact, once you've arrived at your destination, you might be surprised by how you look back on the family road trip. Years later, there are times I even miss those long, hot drives of my childhood. The worst of the traffic and the fighting have faded. Now, like a book, only a good story remains.
"Three Books ..." is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.