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Roads : Driving America's Great Highways by…

Roads : Driving America's Great Highways

by Larry McMurtry

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When I began, I really didn't like this book. The author wasn't TALKING about anything at all. Just rambling on about weather and highway conditions and then he started promoting all of the books he had written. And in this book I wrote about...And in that book... Also, he never stopped. He only drove the interstates. How can you know anything about a place without stopping and spending some time? Zipping by at 80 MPH hardly makes you an expert.

Somehow though, after I had passed the midway point of the book, I warmed up to it a bit more. I don't know if he actually started to write something worth reading or if I had simply gotten used to his writing style, but every once in a while I would think, "good point," or "I didn't know that."

And in the very last pages of the book, his journeys brought him somewhat close to my stomping ground and one paragraph made me want to start road tripping as soon as possible:

"Throughout the afternoon and the next morning the realization slowly grew on me that I had accidentally found something I hadn't really expected to find: the dream road, the good-as-it-gets road, the ideal path into the heart of the great steppe. U.S.2 had everything-- the widest vistas, the greatest skies, and more history than any one traveler could possibly hope to exhaust: Lewis and Clark, the Missouri, the mountain men, the Cheyenne, the Sioux, Sitting Bull, the Yellowstone, Teddy Blue." ( )
  jennannej | Jul 13, 2017 |
Kind of disappointed in this. The author is pretty clear in the forward as to his purpose and intentions. I like the travel genre and I was interested in US Highway 281. But this book never gets enough traction to keep my interest. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 30, 2016 |
I’ll say this for McMurtry, when he puts his mind to it he can paint a landscape as well as any author, and weave a story that will keep you riveted. I wish he’d done more of this in this memoir of a year spent traveling America’s major highways. The book is like many major interstates … miles (pages) of mind-numbing sameness, occasionally interrupted by a point of interest. There are a few memorable passages – his father’s encounter with a rattler, the disappointment of what Key West has become, and the attack of the Volkswagen-Beetle-sized tumbleweeds – but mostly I was in danger of falling asleep at the wheel (bookmark). I also was puzzled by his references to “the 10” or “the 281” rather than the more usual “I-10” or “Hwy 281.” I have never heard the roads referred to as McMurtry does, and it made me feel disoriented. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
I enjoy traveling. McMurtry's non-fiction travel book turned out to be a disappointment for me. He doesn't attempt to cover every highway or state in his travels, but instead of getting out on the interesting roads, he sticks to the Interstate Highway System for the most part. Then on top of that, he just drives -- sometimes 800 miles or so in a single day. He doesn't take time to savor the experience. About the only stop he made was at Hemingway's house in Key West. During the rest of the book, he sometimes reminisces about another time he was in the area and visited something. The book just kind of fell flat. He did drive through my area, but besides commenting on how awful the road construction was, he only made some remarks about James Agee as he drove through Knoxville. I doubt I'll try to read anything else by McMurtry. I'm not into westerns, and his non-fiction doesn't make the grade either. ( )
  thornton37814 | Aug 11, 2015 |
Larry McMurtry's ROADS (2000) was only mildly entertaining to me. I started reading his books forty years ago, and read his first seven novels, then a few years later, I read LONESOME DOVE, which was something of a struggle to get through. So I laid off his books for several years. Last year I read his memoir, BOOKS, which I enjoyed tremendously, although many hated it. In that book, McMurtry made the rather startling admission that he didn't much enjoy writing anymore; that his antiquarian book business was a lot more interesting to him. In ROADS that idea comes through implicitly again, and he also makes a few revealing comments about how his open heart surgery back in the 90s left him reeling, noting that he lost his 'personality' after that frightening operation. Not only could he not write for a while, he didn't even read for a year or two. These honest comments alone make ROADS worth the read, I think.

But McMurtry has obviously regained his love of books and reading and the literary allusions in this book had me making notes again, as he mentioned many writers who came from the various states he drove through here. Many of them I already knew, but even so, those allusions were the spice the narrative needed. His mention of Teddy 'Blue' Abbot's WE POINTED THEM NORTH prompted me to go take another look at my own copy of that book. I've had it for a few years now, but have yet to read it. Soon. I was surprised when he spoke of Michigan writers that he only mentioned Hemingway and an obscure writer named Janet Lewis. I looked up her books, but they didn't look like my kind of stuff. Jim Harrison only rated a footnote. McMurtry admitted he didn't read any Harrison until after this book was finished, quite a surprising gap from someone who reads so widely and voluminously.

The first McMurtry book I read was THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. It remains one of my favorites from this prolific author.

McMurtry does not really come across as much of a "people person." He may in fact be more comfortable with books than he is with interpersonal dealings, and ROADS serves to emphasize this. He is more interested in covering ground than he is in meeting people as he passes through multiple states. He says early on: "I doubt that I will be having folksy talks with people I meet as I travel." And he does not. Which is okay. McMurtry is, after all, a 'book-ish' type, perhaps even a bit shy. I can relate. In fact I may try those other so called 'memoirs' he's written, one about the literary life, and another about his life in films as a screenwriter. I can stand a little name-dropping. ( )
  TimBazzett | May 10, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684868857, Paperback)

You couldn't find a blunter or more accurate title for Larry McMurtry's third work of nonfiction. Roads is indeed an automotive odyssey, in which the author traverses America on one highway after another. As such, the book has a long and honorable pedigree, stretching back to Tocqueville by way of Kerouac, and many readers will compare it to William Least Heat-Moon's bucolic ramble, Blue Highways. That, however, would be a mistake. The last thing McMurtry has in mind is a leisurely tour of small-town America--he's interested in the interstates themselves, "the great roads, the major migration routes that carry Americans long distances quickly." No wonder the speedometer seldom dips below 65 mph throughout the entire narrative. McMurtry is a man on the move, and even his meditative moments fly by in the linguistic equivalent of fourth gear.

Actually, there may be another reason the author is reluctant to apply the brakes: his distaste for various towns, villages, counties, and entire states. Planning a trip to the Texas hill country? McMurtry notes that "the soil is too stoney to farm or ranch, the hills are just sort of forested speed bumps, and the people, mostly of stern Teutonic stock, are suspicious, tightfisted, unfriendly, and mean." Missouri is "a place to get through as rapidly as possible," Ohio and Georgia "really aren't pleasant," and woe to the traveler who lingers in the one-horse towns of the West, "where it's not even wise to roll down one's windows--if you avoid getting murdered you might still breathe in some deadly desert germ."

This crankiness does have an undeniable comic appeal. Yet Roads turns out to be a sentimental journey after all, in the course of which McMurtry hopes to resurrect some of the élan vital he lost in the wake of his 1991 heart surgery. Driving, like reading itself, just may prompt some remembrance of things past:

As I prepared to drive those same overfamiliar roads again it occurred to me that my effort was obliquely Proustian, a retracing of my past that is analogous to the many rereadings I've done in the last few years, always of books I read before the surgery. In these rereadings and redrivings I'm searching, not for lost time, but for lost feelings, for the elements of my old personality that are still unaccounted for. I'm not anguished about these absentees, just curious and somewhat wistful.
Indeed, anguish is largely absent from McMurtry's account, and he doesn't dwell often on this scenario of loss and recovery. Still, it comes through particularly strongly at the end, when he compares his own, transient experience of place to his father's. These final chapters cast a sadder and more substantial light on the preceding ones--and make this circuitous, sometimes tetchy book a trip worth taking. --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:04 -0400)

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As he crisscrosses America--driving in search of the present, the past, and himself--western chronicler Larry McMurtry shares his fascination with this nation's great trails and the culture that has developed around them.

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