The Roads Taken: Travels Through America's Literary Landscapes

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Interlink Books, Jul 1, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 182 pages
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The Roads Taken is a big-hearted book, a thoughtful and wryly affectionate rendering of our national character as revealed to Fred Setterberg in his extensive readings and wanderings. At once a travelogue and memoir, a literary history and extended nature piece, The Roads Taken reconnects Americans to each other and to the land they live and work in - and often forsake. From Henry David Thoreau's Maine Woods to Jack London's San Francisco Bay, from Ernest Hemingway's Upper Peninsula to Zora Neale Hurston's French Quarter, Setterberg pilots readers across the well-traveled pages of our national literature and the well-read contours of the American landscape. He acquaints us anew with the books and ideas that, time after time, have pried us from our self-centered moorings and set us into physical and metaphysical motion. The Roads Taken begins, fittingly, with a discussion between Setterberg and his nineteen-year-old vagabond cousin, Wally, about Jack Kerouac, invoking the Beat writer's spirit as they swap stories about hitchhiking and one-night stands, Setterberg praises Kerouac as perhaps the best of our "bad influence" writers - an author whose stories make people quit their jobs and give away their possessions, whose books are among the first to be banned or burned while formulaic and forgettable best-sellers look on with impunity. Spurred on by Wally (whose next stop is Alaska), Setterberg takes to the road. In chapters inspired by and devoted to particular writers and locales, he visits Red Cloud, Nebraska, a prairie hamlet virtually unknown except as Willa Cather's hometown, and tours across Texas, a state known for all the wrong things until Larry McMurtry distilled a century ofdimestore cowboy novels into his pure and beautiful literature of loneliness. He travels to Nevada, where the budding fabulist Mark Twain honed his truth-stretching skills as a reporter for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and to New Orleans, where Zora Neale Hurston immersed herself in the voodoo rituals she later alluded to in her study of black folklore, Mules and Men. Exiting the paved roads, Setterberg searches for the solace that Nick Adams, Hemingway's internally scarred World War I veteran, might have found in the forests along Lake Superior. He also trails Thoreau deep into the mountains of central Maine for just one glimpse of the adroitly evasive moose. Setterberg's meandering narrative is fertile in unexpected associations, personal memories, and historical asides; redolent with vegetation, hot coffee, and automobile exhaust; and clamorous with strains of soul and country music, laughter, and argument. In its hints at the racism and apathy in this country, and its images of our adulterated skies and waterways, the book is also disturbing. Its accumulated details only suggest the natural and cultural treasures that Setterberg fears we could lose to the "blanding" of America - the rampaging, wide-scale forces of sameness that seem intent on smoothing out our rough edges and disarming the crankiness that characterizes our country at its most local levels. Caught up in Setterberg's Whitmanesque longing to roam widely and embrace whatever comes his way, readers will skip their lunches, unplug their televisions, and let their lawns grow shaggy while they finish The Roads Taken. Then, turning to a friend, or perhaps the stranger who read the book over their shoulder on acrosstown bus ride, they will delight in passing it on.

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THE ROADS TAKEN: Travels Through America's Literary Landscapes

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A smart and unsentimental journey to a few forgotten or overlooked American literary landmarks; winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction. Setterberg's odyssey begins ... Read full review


User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

In this literary travelog, Setterberg (Toxic Nation, Wiley, 1993) presents essays on Willa Cather's Nebraska, Larry McMurtry's Texas-both real and mythical-Thoreau's Maine woods, Hemingway's Michigan ... Read full review


We Travel Texas Lonesome
Underneath Willa Cathers Nebraska
Roughing the Truth with Mark Twain

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