First published in 1982, William Least Heat-Moon's account of his journey along the back roads of the United States (marked with the color blue on old highway maps) has become something of a classic. When he loses his job and his wife on the same cold February day, he is struck by inspiration: "A man who couldn't make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity."
Driving cross-country in a van named Ghost Dancing, Heat-Moon (the name the Sioux give to the moon of midsummer nights) meets up with all manner of folk, from a man in Grayville, Illinois, "whose cap told me what fertilizer he used" to Scott Chisholm, "a Canadian citizen ... [who] had lived in this country longer than in Canada and liked the United States but wouldn't admit it for fear of having to pay off bets he made years earlier when he first 'came over' that the U.S. is a place no Canadian could ever love." Accompanied by his photographs, Heat-Moon's literary portraits of ordinary Americans should not be merely read, but savored.
I love the back roads and enjoyed reading this classic tale. The good thing about the story, it is really a series of short stories and you can read it at any pace that you want, but then it also lacks an overall plot, which is probably typical of a travel log such as this. The real beauty of the tale is how you feel that you are right there with Least Heat Moon in the passengers seat.
What a fabulous book - this is a tale of William as he travels across the US after "taking a break" from his job - he meets so many average yet fascinating individuals, learns about local lore and about the past inhabitants of these towns. This book revealed simply yet beautifully how the mundane can become the extraordinary.
Some men, when they lose their jobs and their wives, take to drink and go to the dogs. When Willian Least Heat Moon lost his, he took to the road and...wrote a book about his travels in order to find out where he way trying to arrive...The book is wonderful. On finishing it, one can be forgiven a little flush of national pride. The New York Times
I liked the book but in spite of trying to stay with it I found it did not draw me back. I enjoyed the 1/3 of the book I finished but never got through all of it. Interesting encounters with locals and the parts I read about areas of the US with which I was familiar were quite authentically described.
The subtitle reads, "A Journey Into America," and that's exactly what it is--a travelogue of his trip around the U.S., staying mostly in his van. He met some interesting people, and I'd still like to know what happened to the spider(!), but I just decided this isn't my kind of book.
Perhaps dated now by more than 30 years, it was newly published when I first read it. The red highways (like arteries) are interstates: they don't let you get off very easily, except for gas and fast food. But the blue roads are like the Road Not Taken (Frost). Although you may no longer meet and see the same circumstances today, the possibilities are still there. This book was a great influence on the choices in my life: I still take the less travelled way whenever I can and love the realities of this country that can still be found in small towns, remote places and back roads.
Even though this book was written over 30 years ago, it is very interesting to discover all the ways in which our culture and our society have changed. Bill did a wonderful job chronicling his journey around the US. I especially enjoyed his historical references, culinary experiences, and interactions with regular folks and, as well as his many encounters with suspicious police. I wish he'd shared a bit more about his personal life, though, and how this trip changed it. I see that he's written two other books, which I am ordering right now. :)
New York Times Bestseller. "Better than Kerouac."--Chicago Sun-Times
William Least Heat-Moon's journey into America began with little more than the need to put home behind him. At a turning point in his life, he packed up a van he called Ghost Dancing and escaped out of himself and into the country. The people and the places he discovered on his roundabout 13,000-mile trip down the back roads ("blue highways") and through small, forgotten towns are unexpected, sometimes mysterious, and full of the spark and wonder of ordinary life. Robert Penn Warren said, "He has a genius for finding people who have not even found themselves." The power of Heat-Moon's writing and his delight in the overlooked and the unexamined capture a sense of our national destiny, the true American experience.
I loved this book. The author, William Least Heat-Moon leaves Columbia MO in 1978 to embark on a trip literally around the entire continental US (map here) http://littourati.squarespace.com/sto...) in a 1975 Ford Econoline van (the van he named Ghost Dancing) . https://anthromuseum.missouri.edu/min.... I arrived in Columbia as a freshman engineering student the following year, 1979. His plan was to follow the secondary roads rather than the main highways (blue on the map, interstates were red), hence the title "Blue Highways". This account of his journey is filled with history, real people and places, and a depth and authenticity in the telling of these peoples stories that allows the reader to experience the interaction that the author is sharing with us. The places visited, and people encountered and interviewed on this journey are fascinating and offer a rich cross section of the US. Historical depth is provided, sometimes by the author, but most often by the people interviewed. This account bears a similarity to another travelogue I recently read by John Steinbeck entitled "Travels with Charley". Both of these books are excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.
I couldn't help but feel like embarking on a journey of this kind myself. Maybe that feeling is what is referred to as "wanderlust"? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanderlust The Wiki article suggests that a better term may be "farsickness". Whatever it is called, I felt it, and also am reminded of a trip my wife and I took 2 years ago. After a family reunion in Colorado, we kept the rental van, and spent 2 more weeks driving around Colorado and New Mexico, just seeing what we could see. It was but a small taste of what this wonderful book shares, but a taste nevertheless. I'm jumping into the companion volume "Blue Highways Revisited" which is a pictorial journey over the same route some 30 years later. In addition I'm in search of the remaining 2 books of the so-called travel trilogy by William Least Heat-Moon
1. Blue Highways
I first came across this book in paperback years ago, and thought it was one of the best things I had ever read. I raved about it so much my wife gave me a hardcover copy which I still have. I ran across the cd version 5 or 6 years ago, took it on my next road trip and enjoyed it again. Since then, the audio version has accompanied two of my friends on road trips, but I doubt that I'll listen to it again, so feel free to claim it.
This was William Least Heat-Moon's first book and probably his most successful though he has written several since. The "Blue Highways" title has a double meaning. The author, an English instructor without tenure, was declared surplus by the U of Missouri; at about the same time, he and his wife separated. He was in such a blue funk he decided on a long road trip to clear his mind. Since he detested Interstate highway driving (I do too), he set out to circumnavigate the continental United States using non-freeways as much as possible - these were mainly marked on road maps in blue in those days.
Much like John Steinbeck in "Travels with Charlie", he outfitted a pickup truck with a camper shell and slept and ate there for most of the trip, although his was certainly a much lower-budget endeavor than Steinbeck's, and I thought a much more enjoyable work since he's a lot less opinionated than Steinbeck was in his book. Altogether an enjoyable read/listen, especially if you can do it on a long road trip.