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Roads : Driving America's Great Highways Hardcover – July 10, 2000

3.3 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Library Journal

McMurty, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove and Oscar for the screenplay for The Last Picture Show, has now delved into the "on the road" genre. He covers most of the country with the exception of the Northeast (reflecting a dislike of I-95) and limits his roads to primarily interstate highways, usually flying to some point in the United States, renting a car, and driving back via the interstates to his home in Archer City, TX. Along the way, he comments on writers indigenous to the area, his own books and screenplays, his likes and dislikes, and his own life. On the whole, there is nothing exceptional here-the best chapter in the book concerns the dirt roads of the author's youth. Recommended only for libraries with a large demand for the author's fiction and those that wish to provide some supplemental autobiographical material on McMurtry.
--John McCormick, New Hampshire State Lib., Concord
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (July 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684868849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684868844
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,163,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on July 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This slim volume should appeal to a variety of folks -- from couch potatoes, to occasional vacationers who pile the kids into the SUV once a summer, and especially to those 'pavement adventurers' among us who travel the interstates often. No matter what part of the country you live in, Larry McMurtry is apt to have driven through it and written at least a few sentences about it. I was fortunate enough to pick up this book just as I was returning from a 10-day drive through seven states, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about stretches of road that I had just covered myself. At the same time that he shares his geographical experiences, McMurtry also teaches you about the literature of that area -- books either ABOUT the place, or BY the authors who live(d) in it. What a nice surprise! This approach makes "Roads" a nice gift for travelers or simply for avid readers as well. If you know McMurtry only for westerns, you'll discover many more dimensions to him in this pseudo-autobiography from behind the wheel. Good, relaxing, summertime reading!
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By Jane on September 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As someone who has driven through most of this country, I have tried to understand why I love the road and why I get restless to get in the car and drive for hours. It's not the destination; it's the travel.
It was incredible to find this book because for the first time, I have found somebody who gets it, who understands it. While reading this, I relived my own adventures which not only made me happy -- but very anxious to go on another trip. Mr. McMurtry was able to find the words I've tried to find when I try to explain to others why I love long road trips.
It's a wonderful narration of the impressions we all get as we travel through areas, but it also makes you think about what you may not know about your own area, such as its history or storytellers. I do not see Mr. McMurty as lonely, but very much a participant in life that nudges others into thought, introspection, and remembrance. Our worlds are what we make them, and his is as expansive as the plains.
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Format: Hardcover
Some folks say the Interstate Highway System finally made it possible to travel from one coast of America to the other without seeing anything.
But "Roads," Larry McMurtry's new collection of essays, part Jack Kerouac, part William Least Heat Moon, part travelogue, part memoir, offers a glimpse of places as remote as the human heart.
This collection of essays is not as much about roads as restlessness. His routine is simple: McMurtry flies someplace, rents a car and drives home to lonesome Archer City, Texas. On his dawn-to-dusk superhighway sojourns, never slowing down for three-calendar diners, tourist traps or even to visit friends, he won't even turn on the radio. The journey itself is his destination. It's about going, not stopping.
At a level as uncomplicated as a farm-to-market road, the highways of McMurtry's collection are merely threads binding together his diverse musings on Los Angeles, manifest destiny, Hemingway's furniture, the need for rattlesnakes, the callowness (and shallowness) of contemporary Hollywood, cowboys, young killers in the Heartland, old books, fatherhood, the yellow housepaint in Key Largo, great rivers, the Holy Tortilla, and short remembrances of several dead characters from his stories. His prose has the quality of conversation on a long, long drive: a meandering, intimate, unfettered discourse inspired by the passing landscape.
But in a larger sense, "Roads" is a metaphor for the circular journey of McMurtry's life. It leads him to, from and through places where he considered roads not taken, or where his personal or literary paths crossed others, or simply where the quality of light through his windshield illuminated a memory.
"Roads" can be read as a natural sequel to "Walter Benjamin": The boy who never read Hemingway or Faulkner until he went to college now takes to the open road as a man to ponder their legacies -- and his own.
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Format: Paperback
This is a pretty mediocre little travel book, and I agree with some previous reviewers in that this kind of self-indulgence could only be published by an established writer who has had greater success previously. Here Larry McMurtry has created an odd mix of memoirs and literary observations by way of a series of half-hearted road trips that he wasn't really enthusiastic about taking. His commentary on sights and characters during his travels is occasionally interesting, in a cynical and curmudgeonly fashion. A good example is his savage comparison of delayed commuters at the airport with refugees in Kosovo. But such coverage of scenery and people, which is what makes great travel books, is rare here. Instead, McMurtry mostly muses on his own foibles, talks about his own books, and reviews the works of other writers who happened to be from the places through which he drove, quickly.

Hence the road trips become merely a vague backdrop for exercises in reminiscing, and McMurtry unloads some poorly defined justifications for taking the journeys, relying on stock gibberish about finding oneself on the road, exploring the soul of America, and the like. Worst of all, during each trip McMurtry often starts complaining partway through that he has lost whatever inspiration caused him to start out, and in a quite annoying anti-travel fashion, he spends more time describing why he decided to avoid certain highways and even large regions. One horrendous example is his dismissal of the entire state of Idaho because of its small population of Aryans, while he has little good to say about any large city he traverses, nor many of the small towns. The only thing saving this book from total oblivion is the many times McMurtry praises other travel writers, which will encourage you to explore books far more enjoyable than this one. [~doomsdayer520~]
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