Carmageddon reading list: 19 books about the joys and terrors of transportation


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Carmageddon is going to be bad. Nobody knows how bad, exactly, but when the 405 Freeway is closed through the Sepulveda Pass this weekend, the cars that rely on it will be spilled onto alternate routes. Which will be jammed. Too many cars, not enough ways for them to get where they’re headed.

Carmaggedon: by midnight Friday, all lanes and ramps of the northbound 405 Freeway, along the 10-mile section between Interstate 10 and the 101 Freeway, will be closed. Southbound lanes of the 405 will be closed from the 101 Freeway to Getty Center Drive. They will not open again until Monday at 6 a.m.


Some fear that the closing will bring about a domino effect of gridlock. But maybe not. While freeways were once an essential and distinctive mark of Los Angeles, Christopher Hawthorne writes that now we’re churning out train lines instead. Maybe you’ve found a way around carmageddon that involves trains or buses. Or maybe you’ll risk it and get behind the wheel. If that happens, any one of these 19 books on our carmageddon reading list might come in handy in case traffic really is awful. Come to think of it, bring two.

‘Car’ by Harry Crews. A man eats a car, one piece at a time, for money. Satirical, edgy and smart.

‘Crash’ by J.G. Ballard. Nobody wants to get in a car crash -- except for the subculture in this novel, full of people who find cars sexualized. Car crashes, mmmmm.

‘Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang’ by Ian Fleming. The James Bond author’s only book for kids, the story of an inventor, his family and their marvelous floating, flying car.

‘Christine’ by Stephen King. The 1958 Plymouth Fury is beautiful, but she’s dangerous. Reading this book will make you understand the terrifying possibilities of automobiles.

‘Cosmopolis’ by Don DeLillo. A young billionaire tries to cross Manhattan in his stretch limousine as the world begins to come apart.


‘Drive’ by James Sallis. A movie stunt driver turned getaway man is the hero of this existential noir.

‘The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby’ by Tom Wolfe. The new journalist’s first collection, named after his breakthough piece on Southern California custom car culture.

‘Let the Dog Drive’ by David Bowman. Hallucinatory, post-apocalyptic, Bowman’s first book is a road novel gone absurd, as a young man and an older woman hitchhike east from the Mojave.

‘Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies’ by Reyner Banham. A revolutionary reading of Los Angeles, this 1971 book reframes the city as, among other things, an ‘autopia,’ developed around the car.

‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac. The book that sent a generation or two out on the road.

‘The Orient Express’ by Agatha Christie. The intercontinental train travel is lovely, but of course, there’s a murderer on board. It’s a classic whodunnit, set entirely on a train.

‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. The only thing better about the upcoming Carmageddon is that there won’t be -- probably -- crazed, wandering cannibals like in McCarthy’s novel.


‘Rosa Parks: A Life’ by Douglas Brinkley. The biography of America’s most famous bus passenger, whose refusal to give up her seat set fire to the Civil Rights movement.

‘The Third Policeman’ by Flann O’Brien. Come this weekend, drivers might have something in common with some of the characters in O’Brien’s novel: an obsession with bicycles.

‘Travels with Charley’ by John Steinbeck. The Nobel Prize winner’s last great work, the story of a cross-country journey with his dog.

‘Truck’ by John Jerome. Jerome finds Zen-like comfort in the act of rebuilding an old pick-up.

‘Unsafe at Any Speed’ by Ralph Nader. Subtitled ‘The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile,’ this book put the car companies on notice and established Nader as a public figure and consumer advocate. Too bad, those Corvairs were so pretty -- oh, right, ‘Christine.’

‘World Made by Hand’ by James Howard Kunstler. The wagon makes a big comeback in this 2008 dystopic novel of what happens after civilization takes a pounding from energy shortages, terrorist attacks and epidemics.

‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert Pirsig. The legendary meditation, in the form of a father-and-son cross-country motorcycle trip. With Carmageddon, we’re all going to need a little Zen.



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-- Carolyn Kellogg, Nick Owchar and David L. Ulin