Least Heat-Moon Travels Elsewhere

Article excerpt

Traveling with William Least Heat-Moon is always an adventure, occasionally exasperating and educational in the extreme.

One of the best-known contemporary Missouri authors, Heat-Moon (birth name William Trogdon), shot from authorial obscurity to household name in 1983. The book that took him there, Blue Highways, was a travelogue by automobile on the back roads of the United States. The Blue of the title referred both to the color of the back roads on his maps, and to his melancholy mood as the result of his messed-up personal life. Four other books followed, including one far more obscure than Blue Highways but in my opinion one of the best travel books ever published in the English language. PrairyErth (1991) is a deep exploration, largely by foot, of Chase County, Kan.

This new book is the first William Least Heat-Moon anthology. Although still physically vigorous (I see Trogdon, 73, around Columbia, Mo., from time to time), the Least Heat-Moon alter ego is no longer a young man. His curiosity and adventurous nature have not dimmed, however, making him a first-rate travel guide. Each of the 28 pieces collected between the covers is accompanied by a freshly composed introduction. The best anthologies contain such valued- added content. Least Heat-Moon has obviously given some thought to each introduction they do not feel dashed off.

The travel destinations are close to home and far from home: portions of Missouri, plus Kansas (including an essay titled Writing PrairyErth); of middling distance (exploring the legacy of novelist William Faulkner in his hometown of Oxford, Miss. …