On Our Bookshelves:
Blue Highways

BOOK: Blue Highways

AUTHOR: William Least Heat-Moon



If you like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, this is a road book for you.  Actually, I think this might be a road book for nearly anyone.  In 1978, having lost his job, and separated from his wife, William Least Heat-Moon outfitted a van with a bunk, portable toilet, and a camping stove, and with a few hundred dollars, took off to look for America.

For three months, he mostly kept away from big cities and interstates, preferring to travel on the secondary roads (blue in the old Rand McNally atlases), visiting small towns, and talking with people he met.  He encountered a prostitute in Nevada, a Hopi medical student, a fisherman in Maine, a devout Christian hitchhiker, bartenders, waitresses, a small town barber in Texas, and many, many others.

I met the author once, many years back, at a promotional event at a bookstore in Chicago.  He graciously signed the paperback copy of his newer book that I’d purchased, and politely thanked me when I told him how much I’d enjoyed Blue Highways.

He struck me, in that very short conversation, as extremely sincere, which may be why I find this volume so powerful.  He didn’t just chit chat with the folks he met on the road.  They discussed religion, and race, and poetry, and politics, and how the United States was changing, and how quickly things were changing.

Reading about his journey, and the people he encountered, seems almost elegiac, as Heat-Moon was already mourning the rapid loss of America’s small town life decades ago, and the current reader knows all too well how much more homogenous our towns and cities have become since then.

A travel guide, a book of philosophy and wisdom, and a window into the recent past, it’s worth reading.

RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): Four Whistles




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Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Heads In Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Madder, Stephen King

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

Up At The Villa, W. Somerset Maugham


Image: American Spirit/Shutterstock.com


Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com