Route 66

If you’re looking for great displays of neon signs, mom-and-pop motels in the middle of nowhere, or kitschy Americana, do as the song says and “get your kicks on Route 66.”

Reading up on Route 66

Considering the old road’s great fame, it’s hardly surprising that over a dozen different books in print deal with the Route 66 experience. Some are travel guides, some folk histories, others nostalgic rambles down what was and what’s left along the Mother Road. Photographic essays document the rapidly disappearing architecture and signage, and at least one cookbook catalogs recipes of dishes served in cafés on the route. Even in the age of GPS coordinates, online maps, and Twitter feeds (like the timely and accurate Route 66 News), nothing beats a good book. The following is a sampling of favorite titles, most of which can be found in stores along the route if not in your local bookstore.

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (Penguin Books). The first and still most compelling Route 66-related story traces the traumatic travels of the Joad family from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to the illusive Promised Land of California. Brutally vivid, The Grapes of Wrath was an instant bestseller at the tail end of the Depression and was the source of Route 66’s appellation, “The Mother Road.”

A Guide Book to Highway 66, Jack Rittenhouse (University of New Mexico Press). A facsimile reprinting of the self-published 1946 book that the late author sold door-to-door at truck stops, motor courts, and cafés along the route.

EZ 66: Route 66 Guide for Travelers, Jerry McClanahan (National Historic Route 66 Federation). The most-detailed driver’s guide to old Route 66, packed with maps and mile-by-mile instructions and information, spiral-bound for on-the-road ease of use.

Route 66: The Mother Road, Michael Wallis (St. Martin’s Press, 1987). This richly illustrated and thoroughly researched guide to the old road is more armchair companion than practical aid, but the book captures the spirit of Route 66, and the writer has been a key promotional force behind the road’s preservation and rediscovery. (Wallis also does the voice of the sheriff in Cars.)

Route 66 Sightings, Jerry McClanahan, Jim Ross, and Shellee Graham (Ghost Town Press, 2011). By far the best Route 66 photo book, this lush volume captures the Mother Road in all its moods.

Searching for 66, Tom Teague (Samizdat House, 1996). More personal than other titles on Route 66, this poignant book of vignettes, illustrated with the fine pen-and-ink drawings of Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire, describes the author’s interactions with the many people along Route 66 who made it what it was. Sadly, both the author and the artist (and almost everyone profiled) have since passed away, making the stories here all the more important and affecting.