Blythe Roberson gives the classic white male genre — the road trip — a comedic, female, millennial spin in her new book “America the Beautiful?: One Woman in a Borrowed Prius on the Road Most Traveled.” Roberson is the author of “How to Date Men When You Hate Men,” has written for The New Yorker, Esquire, and Vice, as well as the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!,” and was a researcher for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” She lives in Brooklyn.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
ROBERSON: I’m in the middle of three or four books. I’m reading André Aciman’s novel “Call Me by Your Name” for book group. It’s very sensual and loose. It takes place over six weeks but it’s not always clear on what day things are happening, which I like. We’re also reading Dorothy Strachey’s “Olivia,” which came out in the 1940s and was influential for Aciman. It’s a novella about a young girl who falls in love with the headmistress at her boarding school. I’m also reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” Shakespeare’s play “Coriolanus,” and “A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast” by Mark Mikolas. I’m trying to teach myself how to identify trees.
BOOKS: What inspired you to teach yourself to identify trees?
ROBERSON: Richard Powers’s “The Overstory.” I know this is cliché but I found that novel so life-changing. I’m only halfway through my tree book after a year because I read about one and then go and try to find it, which is a bit difficult in New York City. I have a lot of books about nature and foraging because I was dating someone last year who was living upstate. We would get into fights about whether knowledge from a book was valid. I was very pro learning from books and he was like, “It’s dumb that you read all these books.” We aren’t dating anymore.
BOOKS: How is the Shakespeare going?
ROBERSON: I read Shakespeare out loud to myself because it was meant to be performed and I don’t really understand it if I’m just reading it. That limits the amount of time I can read it because I also do a lot of my reading while I’m watching television. If I’m watching TV, I’ll read “Wolf Hall.”
BOOKS: You can concentrate on a book while watching TV?
ROBERSON: Yes. This is what my friends think is the most deranged thing about me. I am trying to expand that habit into other languages. I’m hoping to get good enough at French so that I can read a book in French while watching a French movie.
BOOKS: What books did you bring with you on your road trip?
ROBERSON: I brought about 30 books. I forgot I’d be driving most of the day. The only ones I ended up reading were “Yes Means Yes,” an anthology of essays about rape culture edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti; “America Day by Day,” Simone de Beauvoir’s travelogue of the United States, which is boring; and “Against Our Will” by Susan Brownmiller. That is also about rape. I guess I thought rape would be a huge part of my book because so many people told me I would get raped and murdered on my trip. I wasn’t.
BOOKS: Do you own a lot of books?
ROBERSON: Without exaggeration, I have 350 on my floor that I haven’t read yet. I do this stupid thing where I have all my unread books stacked by colors. Then I don’t want to decide what I’ll read next because there are so many options so I just read books in a row by color, starting from the bottom of the pile. I’m in my red pile of books.
BOOKS: How did you become such a voracious reader?
ROBERSON: I think the Pizza Hut reading program is what started it all. When I was a kid in elementary school, Pizza Hut started a program so that if you read a certain number of books and your teacher approved your list, you got these little coupons. You could use those to get a free personal pan pizza. I read a lot of books and ate a lot of pizza. Now here I am.