Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

I have mixed feelings about this book. It has taken me forever to read, and not because I was just savoring it. It’s not a particularly long book, I could just only stand to read so much of it at a time. Least Heat Moon tells interesting stories and meets some fabulous people in this journey, but he tends to be long-winded.

After losing his wife and his job, and figuring he has nothing holding him back, William Least Heat Moon turns his van into a somewhat camper and decides to just drive. As a unique point of his roadtrip, he doesn’t take the more common roads and highways, but instead what he calls the “Blue Highways”. Those roads that are in an old atlas marked in blue and not commonly used for travel anymore. He starts out in MO and makes a trek to the eastern shore, from there he heads south, and then West, eventually making a complete circle around the United States and ending back in MO. He enjoys most of his travels, although, like some of the other travel books I’ve read, he didn’t have all pleasant experiences in the South. While he encounters racism in different parts of the United States, most of the ones he writes about are in this region.

He meets some very interesting people and his stories of them were some of my favorite parts of the book. The shipbuilder, who over the years has been building his own boat for him and his wife to live on once its complete. The barber who gave him one of the best haircuts of his life. The traveling “missionary” who liked to hitchhike and was headed towards South America by way of Montana. There are several other characters, but these were the main ones that stood out to me. He also, thoughtfully, includes pictures of these individuals so we can picture who he’s talking to.

The other parts of the book are more of a “poetic” description of his feelings and what he is learning from this trip. This isn’t a bad thing to have in a book really. But he tends to ramble on a bit in these sections and to me they weren’t as relevant at times as I would have liked. I found myself losing interest when confronted with several of these chapters at a time and it probably explains why it took me so long to read this book.

Least Heat Moon is a good writer. Everything is clear and richly descriptive. He just seems to like his words so much that he can’t be as concise as most writers. When he’s writing about other people he’s excellent. Writing about himself is just a whole different style for him.

I liked a good half of the book I would say. It’s always interesting to read travelogues and I especially like it when author’s focus on what they are seeing and who they are meeting, rather than their thoughts on how the trip is changing their life. In this book, I got half of each. I would recommend reading it, as he does have some interesting accounts in the book.

Blue Highways
Copyright 1983
411 pages + map and afterword