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Blue Highways (1999)

Blue Highways (1999)

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3.99 of 5 Votes: 1
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0316353299 (ISBN13: 9780316353298)
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About book Blue Highways (1999)

I started this book about a month ago and tried to fit it into a hectic schedule. This weekend I decided to give it a serious go and see where it would end up.The author decided to do a circle route of America when his life was destined to fall apart. He lost his job and his marriage was in trouble. Broke both in wallet and heart, he started putting together the trip he wanted to do for several years. He always wondered whether he could cross the United States by auto without ever using a federal highway. In his atlas he followed the back roads, those off the beaten tracks printed in blue.In the spring of 1978 he set out and traveled 'as long as money, gumption, and the capacity to fend of desolation' would hold up. Fourteen thousand miles, it turned out to be. He wished for the road to lead him to a new life, one that did not daily promise him more fruit of his failures. "I had no idea whether people in rural America would open up to an intinerant, a fellow more lost than otherwise. Wouldn't their suspicions of a bearded stranger stifle any attemps to talk with them about their lives? I had not then heard novelist John Irving's assertion that there are, at the of heart of things, only two plots, two stories: a stranger rides into town, a stranger rides out of town. Without knowing it, I had a chance for both." He would remember the lines from a Navajo Wind Chant: " Then he was told:Remember what you have seen,because everything forgottenreturns to the circling winds."Several reasons drove me to buy this book. My very first interest in the faraway America started when an American friend subscribed me to the Country magazine. That was many years ago. What a revelation! For fiteen years I kept the subsription going, totally in love with a fascinating country and its people, which I would never experience in its entirety. Then another American friend sent me her old copy of Peter Jenkins' book A Walk Across America and I followed the author's route in total awe. It took some effort to find his other book Looking for Alaska . The day it was delivered, was one of the best ever! It did not take long to discover the British comedian Billy Conolly's rendition of Route 66 as a television series. It just got better and better.So when I found William Heat-Moon's book, ' Blue Highways' on GR, I was mentally and emotionally packing my bags for another imaginary trip through a country of dreams. The distance of the circular trip would encompass the equivalent to half the circumference of the earth. I will never see it, I know. But with the help of Google and maps, I was able to virtually drive the few thousand miles with William Least Heat-Moon in his delivery truck called Ghost Dancing. " My wife, a woman of striking mixed-blood feautures, came from the Cherokee. Our battles, my Cherokee and I, we called the 'Indian wars.' For these reasons I named my truck Ghost Dancing, a heavy-handed symbol alluding to ceremonies of the 1890s in which the Plains Indians, wearing cloth shirts they believed rendered them indestructible, danced for the return of warriors, bison, and the fervor of the old life that would sweep away the new. Ghost dancers, desperate resurrection rituals, were the dying rattles of a people whose last defense was delusion -- about all that remained to them in their futility."His pseudonym has a charm of its own. William Least Heat-Moon, byname of William Trogdon is an American travel writer of English, Irish and Osage Nation ancestry. He is the author of a bestselling trilogy of topographical U.S. travel writing.His pen name came from his father saying, "I call myself Heat Moon, your elder brother is Little Heat Moon. You, coming last, therefore, are Least."The author's love affair with English ensured that this book would become the voice of Americans in literary form. With his Ph.D. in English, and also serving as a professor, he had the knowledge, experience and curiosity to turn an ordinary travelogue into a travel masterpiece. To the Siouan peoples, the Moon of heat was the seventh month, a time also known as the Blood Moon. William Heat-Moon had seen thirty-eight Blood Moons during his lifetime. His age carried its own madness and futility.He aimed to visit those towns that get on the map--if they get on at all--only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon; Simplicity, Virginia; New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi."Many people would open up their lives and homes for him and with an ease in the art of interviewing people, his ability to portray their history, way of life and language onto paper, he brought a country alive that is not so visible to the naked, and unsuspecting eye. With the addition of well-research history notes, the book becomes much more than a travelogue, or only a personal journey in which he hoped to find himself and his future. It becomes a masterpiece of American society with the spotlight switched on brightly. It is one of the best travel books I have read so far. Another firm favorite of mine in the travel genre is The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee by Stewart Lee Allen. I actually reread this book in between, after having a very lively discussion of it last week with a guest. So it was a period of mental travelling for me these past few weeks. Nothing beats a well-written travel journal, at least for me. I guess it is that instinct in all of us to visit distant shores. It feeds our instinct, our curiosity, our dreams. Blue Highways has become my second favorite. This book illustrates so well that the journey beats the destination hands down.Since its first publication date in 1982, it has appeared on the New York Best Seller's list for several weeks, and have been reprinted several times. This alone, should convince the readers of history and travel genres to try it.In 2012 a new book was published: BLUE HIGHWAYS Revisited by Edgar I. Ailor, Edgar I Ailor IV (Photographer), William Least Heat-Moon (Foreword), Edgar I. Ailor, Edgar I Ailor (Photographs). The author and his son revisited all the places and compiled a photographic memory of all the people and the towns.A video of an interview with William Least Heat-Moon, as well as some photographic footage of the above-mentioned book is available on Youtube. Blue Highways Audiobook free copy

On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk - times neither day nor night - the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it's that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.(p 1)I love open road books. I can't help it. But then, I also love the open road, so it makes sense that I'd be drawn to books like these. I've spent the better part of an hour with my mom searching for O. Henry's grave in Asheville, North Carolina, finding, accidentally, Thomas Wolfe's grave as well; I've been dog-sledding in Alaska with my mom and her sister; I once got stranded at the Heartbreak Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and probably questionably got a ride back to my dad's office by a young shuttle driver named Sam; I once woke up in the car with my family in Utah on my oldest brother's birthday, with the sun coming up behind us, making the cliffside wall in front of us turn pink; I've had a variety of different kinds of fish fries in Wisconsin with my grandparents over the years.I've wanted to read this book for a long time. The author is from the same town in Missouri that I am from, and this book has forever been recommended to me. I couldn't get through the first couple pages the few times I tried reading it in the past, but looking back I think the reason was I wanted to get out of Columbia, Missouri so much at that time that reading a book that was so closely related with the town was too much for me. I needed to put a few hundred miles between me and Columbia before I could really feel comfortable having anything to do with the town again, including reading authors from there. It may be silly to most people, but I really hated it there.But I've been away over a decade now, a safe enough distance. While I have no desire to go back, the few mentions in this book to Columbia and its immediate surroundings actually gave me an "Aww, I know what he's talking about!" feeling. But more than that, I could relate to Least Heat-Moon's need for the open road.After some pretty life-changing moments, Least Heat-Moon hit the road to circuit the United States. He wanted to stick to the "blue highways", the back roads that used to be blue lines on old highway maps. Along the way he met several people, many of whom are described in detail here, including their conversations. I've seen a few reviews that complain that there is not much difference in the way people talk in the different places Least Heat-Moon stopped. Maybe those reviewers haven't been to small towns throughout the country, but in reality there's not always a lot of change. Small towns are pretty similar all over the country, whether you're in the south, the north, the west, or the east.There's some tedium here, which I think is unavoidable. The open road, for all of its adventures and excitement, can become tedious. Life can become stale. I say this without having done a full circuit of America as Least Heat-Moon did, so I cannot even imagine how stale life might have been for him. This was before iPhones and iPads and portable DVD players. He was on the road with his vehicle, Ghost Dancing, with:1 sleeping bag and blanket;1 Coleman cooler (empty but for a can of chopped liver a friend had given me so there would always be something to eat);1 Rubbermaid basin and a plastic gallon jug (the sink);1 Sears, Roebuck portable toilet;1 Optimus 8R white gas cook stove (hardly bigger than a can of beans);1 knapsack of utensils, a pot, a skillet;1 U.S. Navy seabag of clothes;1 tool kit;1 satchel of notebooks, pens, road atlas, and a microcassette recorder;2 Nikon F2 35 mm cameras and five lenses;2 vade mecums: Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks.(p 9)I can say with certainty that two books would not be enough for me on a trip around the country. Hell, two books are not enough for quick weekends to Baltimore.This makes me want to travel. I loved the characters Least Heat-Moon met along the way, and how he got a little something out of all of those interactions. He wanted to hit as many strangely-named out-of-the-way towns as he could (Nameless, Tennessee; Dime Box, Texas, etc.), and he tried to learn the different histories of the people and the towns he encountered. Most people don't have the patience to do things like that. Most people don't even like to leave the safety, the certainty of the interstate. Most people like the comfort of corporate gas stations and fast food chains. I admire Least Heat-Moon for having standards enough to try to find the best possible diners in the country and never going through a drive-thru.It's summer now. In the past our family used to take trips, usually in August. The five of us cramped in a small Nissan, three of us in the backseat, all legs and elbows, me always sitting in the middle. It was claustrophobic to be sure. There were fights and arguments and many tears, but I have to admit I miss those trips. Falling asleep on my brothers' shoulders, flashlight batteries dying and trying to read by the lights of the cars behind us, and just experiencing the country (even on small trips) to the best of our ability with a limited income. Now that we're all growed up, we'll never have those moments again. But reading books like these sort of brings it back to me.

Do You like book Blue Highways (1999)?

I have finally read this book! It has been in my basement for a number of years. It was recommended to me by my sister and when I ran across a copy, I bought it. It's the story of a man who drove across the US in his van, avoiding interstates whenever possible and talking to people along the way. He wanted to see America before it all got paved over with shopping malls and all the mom-and-pops were run out of town and sometimes it was too late.I spent quite a bit of time reading this book. It didn't seem like a book to be rushed, although I admit I did a bit of rushed reading at the end because I was eager to finish it. For most of the book, I read just a few chapters at a time. It took the author many months to travel across the country and I didn't feel the need to read it quickly.William Least Heat-Moon meets some interesting characters as he travels through the small towns of America. He seems to be a bit of a character himself. The entire time I'm reading this, I'm thinking "He sleeps in his van all across the US? Is that a seventies thing? Could someone do that now? What about bathing? Is that why sometimes people look at him askance? What would I think if I saw him today on this journey? Would I be a nice stranger or one of those that gave him a weird look?"I learned a lot of things about the country that I didn't know before. The author appeared to be in a melancholy state of mind as he did this journey (he had just lost his job and his marriage). Sometimes reading it was relaxing, other times it was disturbing.At the end, I wanted him to find what he was looking for, but as he said he didn't know if he had learned what he wanted to know because he didn't know what he wanted to know.

Oh, I just love this beautifully written book. It is my dream to travel the back roads of America some day in a self-contained van, as he does (easier for a young man than an old woman, I know.) Least Heat-Moon paints gorgeous images of the scenery, tells hilarious stories about the quirky places he visits, subtly teaches the reader some geography and science, and writes touchingly of his own reactions to his journey and to the people he meets along the way. Although he only writes a few short paragraphs of autobiography, through the subtext the reader learns much about him and grows to admire him as he struggles to learn and understand what he sees and experiences.

Two stars instead of three for this book, because it starts with a dishonest premise. We are told that the author lost his marriage and his job, and "just decided" to take a road trip to find himself or whatever. He lived in his van--feasible in 1978, but dangerous if not foolhardy today. The idea held for a portion of the book...until I read all those verbatim conversations. How could he remember all that? I asked myself. One or two conversations that really spoke to you, maybe--but dozens? Then we get to the part about him sitting down with his tape recorder and outlines to do some work. Oh. So it wasn't quite the spontaneous thing you present it as, was it? And then all those pro-quality (more or less) photographs--all very obviously posed.Why not be honest, sir, and say, "I decided to try my hand at some anthropological field-work type stuff, to make a record of the vanishing grassroots America" or something of the sort? Why pretend? It was an okay read, though it could have been cut down a bit to advantage; it started to go on far too long, in too much extraneous detail. I could have done without the numerous and lengthy quotes from Walt Whitman, but that's just my personal taste (or lack of taste for Whitman's work.) I could also have done without the constant bashing of Christians and their beliefs; if he doesn't share them, well and good--but surely if a person doesn't believe something to be true, in a sense it is not real for that person--and therefore shouldn't have quite such a hold on them? I personally don't believe we have direct contact with aliens from other planets,for example but I don't feel the need to go on and on about it, or to mock those who do. Ridiculing the convictions of others does not necessarily make the mocker look better, or more mature--it just makes your issues more evident.I did find it interesting that the books written by Native Americans that I have read do not feel the need to use the PC appellative to speak of themselves and others like them; the term "Indian" is used, or in this case, the author repeatedly uses the "unacceptable" term "red man" to refer to himself and others of his ethnic background. However, I found it curious that in his dealings with African Americans etc, they didn't seem to consider him non-Caucasian, either. About the "wall calendar rule" for truckstops, diners and smalltown eating houses: never heard of it, and I've eaten in a lot of all of them in my time. I will say, the number of trucks parked outside is a good indicator. The number of men in baseball-type caps with agricultural logos of one type or another on them is a good indicator. And if they have a print of those poker-playing dogs on the wall, the food is probably excellent.
—Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)

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