Monday, May 25, 2009

The Least Among Us

I told my parents, but pretty much no one else, that I was a bit disappointed in William Least Heat-Moon.  While reading River Horse, (his oddly similar voyage, but basically profoundly dissimilar to Lewis and Clark, across our country by its riparian roads), I got tired of the  seemingly phlegmatic railing that didn't seem attached to any particular beef.  I loved the book.  Even as a fairly liberal guy, I love this country, consider her land something of a mistress, and want to feel kinship with this soulful writer.  Thousands of people will tell you they do.  He's a bestseller for crying out loud.  Something of a travel narrative rock star.  

So Heat Moon, travels across America via various rivers, starting in New York harbor (he is where this untraveled (to New York) Hoosier learned that the East River was actually a tidal strait, connecting Long Island Sound to New York Bay; salt water, not a river in any sense whatsoever.  More on that later.)  He goes down all these rivers with different names and stops in little towns along the way.  He passes Native American mounds (which Indiana is rich with, we have a State Park called, "Mounds", lest you be confused what's going on there), which turn out to be more mysterious than you ever imagine (which is why you read this guy.)  And every night, like the deepest dreams that falter when your eyes awake to the day, he stops in some hamlet, to drink beer and carry on with the locals.  Secure in the knowledge, that should someone ask, he is there for a reason.

Sounds pretty great doesn't it?  He complains about things more than is necessary.  Usually it is cloaked in a bit of anti-right wing (phonies, would say Mr. Caufield) rhetoric, but it is whining none the less.  And of course there is that little issue that someone my family knows had reason to regard him as a bit of a womanizer.  I don't know. He is a great writer.  Some of his stupid tricks like having someone come along with him, whom he calls a nickname, and never really reveals, makes him seem like he's never been in therapy.  Then again...  maybe he never has.  And in that case, my gosh, he is merely a character and raconteur with which to share that beer, and the blessings he's experienced should be understood to not outweigh the abuses he suffers beneath.  On the river.  At the bar.

Basically I love the guy, but was having issues with him.  Then he had a new book come out with a title that seemed to be taunting my worst insecurities about my admiration of him.  The title of the book was, Roads To Quoz: an American Mosey.  It's like Lewis Carroll had got ahold of him, and said, "It doesn't end with Jabberwocky! Got it, kid?"

I don't know what Roads To Quoz is about, exactly. I sort of breezed through its index (something more people should consider, when looking at a book.  For example: have you ever had to index a book yourself?  The philosophy behind it, and the practice that glancing at an index would suggest to you, are to rather separate matters.  Indexing is hard work, and to the good author and editor (though they realize most people could care less (unless)) should cause more than a little consternation about all those old questions that caused the entire enterprise in the first place.)  What I found in the index made me warm to the book considerably.  

Somewhere in the index (perhaps in the "B's"?) it said, "Bloomington, Kerouac pg ###. "  I thought to myself, could Road To Quoz be a PrariErth of my home state, or county or town??  That would be beyond my wildest dreams.  So good, it would hurt.  I love that deep map of Chase County, Kansas.  When I read it the second time (Mortimer Adler might say, the first) I kept a book mark of the State of Kansas in the book, and another of Chase county.  It is one of my dreams to go there and dick around.  With notes I took from the book.  That was Heat Moon at his best.  You could tell he was trying something different and a little scared or something.  A little lost.  In the realm he remembered from the failures of his past.  It made his writing want to stick to something more important than right wingers.  I'm sure the right wingers slipped off his prose in editing, in any case, but you get my drift.

Turns out the section that he did in Road to Quoz, was a whimsy concerning the original Jack Kerouac scroll that Jim Irsey, owner  of the Indianapolis Colts, had purchased, and insisted on housing for a period at Lilly Library, Indiana University, and then touring it.  I don't know if Irsey came up with the idea himself, or if one of his many advisors (or the estate of Jack) suggested it, but chances are I never would have read Jack's scroll were it not for the fact that it was so intelligently displayed (curated?) and continuously turned, each week, through the (I think) entirety of the scroll.  Did I go every week.  Of course not.  But I went a bunch.  Lilly Library is typical of the monastic tradition of knowledge hoarding.  It isn't greed, due to that fact that cultural entropy destroys what is not protected with nearly martial measures.  The building (and even it's satellite warehouses) is small, and over shadowed by tulip poplars and other hardwoods native to my beloved home, but its purpose goes so far beyond the cliche of making a difference, it nearly seems indifferent to the concept whatsoever.  

So Heat Moon, probably unchanged by his trip to Bloomington, changed me nonetheless by placing yet more armor over my Achilles heel:  this deep sentiment I have for the Ohio River Valley, and near desperation I feel to make a case for flyover country (if only to chill my own self out.)  Thanks William Least Heat Moon.  And cheers, and thanks to you even if it exhausts you.


1 comment:

Max Weismann said...

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more: