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Author Topic: Adventure in 917.3: Larry McMurtry's ROADS  (Read 224 times)

jon daly

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Adventure in 917.3: Larry McMurtry's ROADS
« on: September 12, 2018, 01:53:49 PM »

(A continuation of my reading adventures that are chronicled elsewhere here, e.g.: https://www.aaroads.com/forum/index.php?topic=23554.0)

This is a travelogue, but if you are familiar with the ones by John Steinbeck or William Least Heat Moon, it is of a different sort. Around the turn of the century, McMurtry took several drives along the interstates and barely interacted with other people. His company on this trip consisted of writers and their books. E.g. while writing about his travels down "the 35"* he discusses midwestern author Nelson Algren. While driving through Baltimore, Edgar Allen Poe, H.L. Mencken, and Anne Tyler appear.

McMurtry is a plainsman, so his love of the West comes out when he writes about the chroniclers frontier folk like David Lavender who wrote about the Bend family in Colorado or the cowboy-memoirist Teddy Blue.

There's not much roadgeekery in the book, but he does opine on some highways like US-2. "(It) had everything --- the widest vistas, the greatest skies, and more history than any one traveler could hope to exhaust: Lewis and Clark, the Missouri, the mountain men, the CHeyenne, the Sioux, Sitting Bull the Yellowstone, Teddy Blue. Custer, had he survived, could have raced back down the Yellowstone and caught a steamboat home, to glory and his Libbie.

He also wrote about US-66. He wrote that "not many of the oldsters who drove route 66 in its heyday will be apt to wax nostalgic about it, for it was always a dangerous road, with much more traffic to carry than it could carry safely. Dead bodies in the bar ditch and smushed cars on wreckers were always common sights along old 66."

He tries to define the Midwest; something also recently attempted here: On page 80 McMurtry writes, "I spent the day in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missourri answering, at least to my own satisfaction, where the midwest begins. Its eastern edge would seem to me to be Columbus, Ohio, after which the great cornfields appear and continue all the way to St. Louis. Western Ohio still has the look of Appalachia, with narrow frame houses on steep hillsides, but after Columbus there are no hillsides. just the flat midwestern plain."

Earlier on page 16 he has the northeastern megalopolis annex Cleveland. "To see the Culture of Congestion at its most intense, just go east of Cleveland, north of Richmond, Virginia, south of Maine."

Larry McMurtry is a plainsman from Archer, Texas. From my New England POV, my gut tells me that the midwest starts in Pittsburgh, but that's not widely accepted and I'll admit that I could be wrong. I just think that it is too similar to Cleveland for them not to be part of the same region and I think McMurtry's wrong focusing on cornfields. There's also the Great Lakes and the Ohio and I think those define the Midwestern boundaries. (Hence, I sometimes half-kiddingly mentally place Louisville within its orbit.)

The book was a mere 200 pages and a relatively small hardback. I liked it, but it went down so smoothly that I tried my best to savor it by stretching things out and taking two weeks to read it. It did get me interested in reading more about the West soon.

*  McMurtry's a Texan, but I wonder if he picked up the habit of referring to interstates as "the x" while he was in Hollywood when his books were adapted for the screen.
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Hot Rod Hootenanny

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Re: Adventure in 917.3: Larry McMurtry's ROADS
« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2018, 10:55:47 PM »

I read ROADS when it first came out, and found it to be too dry for my tastes. Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove are much better works by Larry.
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jon daly

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Re: Adventure in 917.3: Larry McMurtry's ROADS
« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2018, 06:19:11 AM »

I never read Lonesome Dove, but I saw it. As far as I can tell, the only book I've ever read by him was another non-fiction work entitled ... BOOKS.
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