Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey

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About a quarter century ago, a largely unknown wanderer named William Least Heat-Moon wrote a book called Blue Highways. It was a travel book like no other, a book that revealed its author to be a chronicler of rare linguitic genius and empathy, a listener who knew that the small places can offer the biggest surprises. Heat-Moon, wrote one reader, was a travel writer as Faulkner was a country historian.

Road to Quoz is Heat-Moon's long-awaited...

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About a quarter century ago, a largely unknown wanderer named William Least Heat-Moon wrote a book called Blue Highways. It was a travel book like no other, a book that revealed its author to be a chronicler of rare linguitic genius and empathy, a listener who knew that the small places can offer the biggest surprises. Heat-Moon, wrote one reader, was a travel writer as Faulkner was a country historian.

Road to Quoz is Heat-Moon's long-awaited return to America's back roads. It is a lyrical, funny, and magisterially told chronicle of American passage, a journey into the heart of a nation almost desperate for meaning beyond consumerism and self-absorption, a book that invites readers to "discover America anew." (Christian Science Monitor).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

It was almost a decade ago that Least Heat-Moon (Blue Highways) followed the trail of Lewis and Clark in River Horse; in the first section of his latest peripatetic writings, he and his wife, Q, trace the lesser-known Dunbar-Hunter Expedition of 1804 through the southern half of the Louisiana Purchase, searching out the head of the Ouachita River in Arkansas. Least Heat-Moon's fans will find this territory, and that covered in the five other "journeys to places a goodly portion of the American populace would call 'nowhere,' " instantly familiar, as he and various companions take digressive paths from one small opolis ("where anything metro was clearly missing") to the next in search of "quoz" (an 18th-century word meaning "anything out of the ordinary"). Among his many adventures, Least Heat-Moon rides a bicycle along an abandoned railroad track, discovers a "road to nowhere"built by a Florida county so local drug smugglers would have a landing strip, and comes up with what he believes is the real story behind the murder of his great-grandfather. Or maybe the highlights of these journeys are the people he meets along the way and their stories, like the man who tried to fund a school for disadvantaged children by providing lonely widows with special massages, or the artist who's turned his cabin into a walk-in kaleidoscope. Either way, few readers will be able to resist tagging along. (Oct. 29)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Heat-Moon (née William Trogdon) has been a chronicler of small-town America since his Blue Highways: A Journey into America(1982). He has a gift for seeing beauty and mystery in even the remotest areas of the country. In his new book, he and his wife, Jo Ann (who refers to herself as "Q"), set out to explore the Ouachita River, which begins in Mena, AK, and ends in Louisiana. The reason for this journey is as fascinating as the book itself: Thomas Jefferson is famous for initiating the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but few people know of the Dunbar-Hunter Expedition of 1804, referred to by Jefferson as second only to Lewis and Clark's in importance. After discovering Hunter's Journal of an Excursion From Natchez on the Mississippi Up the River Ouachita, he and Q set out to see this largely still remote area of the South. Along the way, they ruminate on Grapette, Jesus Trees, the Goat Woman of Smackover Creek, the Quapaw Ghost Light-as you can see, this is not your typical travel guide. Heat-Moon's journey is as meandering as the Ouachita itself, and readers will relish the experiences he and Q describe along their trip. He has not lost his skills in painting unforgettable portraits of places and people few of us will ever encounter. And, yes, "Quoz" is a word, and its definition sums up the reason for recommending this book to all libraries: "strange, incongruous, unknown, and mysterious."
—Joseph L. Carlson

Kirkus Reviews
An amiable, literate tour of America's byways, in the company of the poet laureate of the back road. Heat-Moon (River-Horse, 1999, etc.), as if channeling Kerouac, whom he writes about here at some length, announces early on a rationale for his wanderings and writings over the last quarter-century or so: "to break those long silent miles, I must stop and hunt stories and only later set down my gatherings in order to release them one day to wander on their own." In this instance, grown suddenly fond of the letter Q, he ponders the word quoz ("rhymes with Oz"), a quizzical, questioning quest in search of who knows what, so long as it's wonderful. So he heads at first west by way of the wondrous Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, which are really ancient worn-down hills separated by a broad valley full of colorful characters, some with teeth, some with stills. Heat-Moon, naturally enough, turns to suitable pondering, reflecting that many years before he had found himself "wondering how many people I'd meet if I lived to be four score and ten," and reckoning that the total might be 100,000, almost all of them pleasant "or at least neutral" encounters. Here, as the author steers into the dark hearts of Maine, Pennsylvania, Idaho, New Mexico, Louisiana, Florida and other corners of this wide land, he turns up plenty of nice folk who serve him fried chicken, scrod or tacos and tell him tales of their lives. Heat-Moon's travels have a Steinbeckian air, but with a decidedly countercultural twist, as when he pronounces, "To live more otherly is to live more lastingly. It's a fundamental law of biology."Residents of states not mentioned will surely wish that Heat-Moon's quozzical travels had taken himthere as well-a pleasure for his fans, who are deservingly many.
The Barnes & Noble Review
William Least Heat-Moon drove his van into the landscape of American letters with Blue Highways, a layered, pensive work that spent much of 1982 and '83 on the bestseller lists. It was a latter-day book of revelations; its author took to the road with a soul tuned to the stirring of myth and parable in common lives and lost places and an ear aimed at the great roots and trees of sense made by the sound of intertwined words. In the Middle America Least Heat-Moon travels, epochs mingle: there are the fears and resentments of the far-flung Appalachian diaspora, the ways and means of a bureaucratized and overdetermined modernity, and the wild, weird, mythopoetic past of the author's own Osage forebears -- a past peopled not with romanticized versions of forest sages but with misfits, rogues, and tricksters whose world-making power rises out of an all-too-human confusion.

In the subsequent book PrairyErth, Least Heat-Moon explored the rich rootedness of place he discovered in the unassuming topography -- the "deep map" -- of Chase County, Kansas. Like his first book, it unearthed the misdeeds, hopes, and longings that work themselves into the very soil. River Horse followed, a post-9/11 journey by watercourse, plying rivers and canals to see places not visible from the road. In Roads to Quoz, Least Heat-Moon sets out once more by road and river across the warped, river-laced continent with a depth of feeling engendered by the jumbled accumulation of text, habit, and heartbreak.

What is Quoz? Is it a question or a quibble, quiddity or quintessence? It's foremost a nonce word, a found word, which Least Heat-Moon picked up like a fossil-bearing rock to carry on his journeys, noting that it rhymes with Oz, that troubled realm conjured by the mind of another fevered plainsman. It offers the taste of Elizabethan thief's cant or 17th-century utopian fiction, absurd and optimistic. It's ultimately less a place than a quality or a mood that marbles the tales and reminiscences of wayward strangers, that tinges the skein of highways with a flushed hue of frustrated possibility. In the Oxford English Dictionary, "quoz" is an obsolete insult of mild quizzical contempt -- the sort of word one might pin to a traveling stranger asking too many questions. "When mischievous urchins wished to annoy passersby," an early-20th-century source avers, "they would look the stranger in the face and cry out 'Quoz!' " To Least Heat-Moon, however, quoz stands for the enticing, the possible, the mysterious back-of-beyond that lies just over the horizon. Its avatar is Least Heat-Moon's partner and traveling companion, Quintana (Least Heat-Moon calls her Q). A lawyer by training, she's inquiring and engaged, alive to the sources of power and proscription that batten themselves on the frustrated hopes of the cooks, artists, farmers, and river pilots they meet on their travels.

The early journeys in Roads to Quoz are attempts to retrace the route of William Dunbar and George Hunter, whom Thomas Jefferson sent to explore the Southwest when Lewis and Clark were lighting out for the Columbia. But their mission is abortive; and "Dunbar's limited success," Least-Heat Moon avers, "added an element of intrigue to our path." Dunbar and Hunter sought mineral wealth in northern Arkansas; in their wake they left a diamond mine that, Least Heat-Moon tells us, is the only one in the world open to the public: "not a shaft but a plowed field where one can lay down a few bucks and take a shovel out into the scrapings." Least Heat-Moon concludes that this tourist-trap diamond hunting is a version of what he and Q are after: "scratching about among the tailings of those before us in hopes of coming upon a gem of a quoz to adorn a chamber of memory."

Least Heat-Moon's work reminds us that not all of history is victory and acclaim, and that the work of discovery is more personal and never-ending. Here, letters from long-forgotten authors and wanderers arrive bearing no return addresses; gnomic pre-Socratic utterances ring out in empty daytime honky-tonks where artists and dreamers regale Least Heat-Moon with accounts of unrequited dreams. Old tales of dashed hopes end in murders and mysterious disappearances, which the analytic Q coolly parses while Least Heat-Moon conjures pain, fear, and lost heat.

This America is the same one plumbed a century ago by Edgar Lee Masters, whose Spoon River Anthology charts the losses, hopes, and delusions the turned earth covers over. But while Quoz is a sunset journey, it's more than mere elegy; and Least Heat-Moon is awake as ever, his attention keyed up. Driving along roads cut through the Ouachita Mountains of northern Arkansas he notices the "tortured crumplings" of sediments visible in the road cuts that tell of the "terrific compression" that piled the region up out of a shallow sea some half a billion years ago. He notes that the lack of an interstate highway running north to south through the region is due to these epochal foldings, ancient geology determining modern transportation policy -- deep maps indeed. These landscapes are both ancient and unfinished, always becoming; perhaps this is why Least Heat-Moon prefers the revealing power of the unfinished, the half-baked, the frustrated.

Like Dunbar and Hunter, Least Heat-Moon is blessed with a short attention span, and his distraction is his readers' delight. The trajectories of Roads to Quoz spread out across the continent, tracing migratory routes and watershed meanders. The land and its waters are scored and ravaged, worn down and shifted out -- just as they always have been. Least Heat-Moon's deep map accommodates these changes; his sensibility takes in the land and its inhabitants neither conditionally nor ideally but in all their predicates, be they faultless or fumbling. In the end Least Heat-Moon reaches out past Osage myths and Anglo dreams to invoke Hermes Trismegistus, avatar of the primordial god of the road, who knows that the world with all its faults is nothing less than "the unexcelled all," an "infinite variety of sundry forms" which we in our partial sight are doomed to "scorn and reckon nonsense."

With this prophecy in the offing, Least Heat-Moon and Q finally float as far as Rachel Carson's "Mason-Dixon line of the sea," the estuarine zone where the Gulf Stream collides with the Labrador current off the Carolina coast. There, Least Heat-Moon writes, where the solid continent gives way to "a spongy maze of runnels and gutters...a slender realm of fluvial and marine emergence," one finally finds "a few leagues of a kingdom come, a land of quoz rich in native booty." --Matthew Battles

Matthew Battles is the author of Library: An Unquiet History. He has written about language, technology, and history for such publications as The American Scholar, The Boston Sunday Globe, and Harper's.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616815240
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Publication date: 10/29/2008
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

William Least Heat-Moon is the author of the bestselling classics Roads to Quoz, Blue Highways, River Horse, and PrairyEarth. He lives in Columbia, Missouri.

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Table of Contents

I Down an Ancient Valley 1

II Into the Southeast 157

III Into the Southwest 211

IV Into the Northeast 325

V Into the Northwest 415

VI Down an Old Waterway 497

Valedictories 563

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 22, 2008

    A lengthy, leisurely, mosey across America!

    Roads to Quoz is the story of William Least Heat-Moon and his wife Q's travels around America. Quoz are the quirky, peculiar, little oddities that you can stumble across when your heart and mind are open. You must travel at the pace of a mosey, something Least Heat-Moon has perfected and a companion the likes of Q, wise and witty, is also helpful. <BR/><BR/>I enjoyed this lengthy, leisurely, mosey across America. As he goes the author meanders off into whatever subject catches his interest, so you will hear about Quapaw Ghost Light of Oklahoma, getting lost in the Maine woods, a man with unconventional ways of raising money to start a school, and so many other fascinating stories it is impossible to relate them all here. Best of all you will come to know Q and admire the way she keeps Least Heat-Moon firmly and hilariously in his place! <BR/>I listened to this book on audio and Sherman Howard does a great job of setting the relaxed gently inquisitive tone. His voice matches Least Heat-Moon's personality so well that for awhile I thought the author was reading the book himself!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 30, 2008

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    Posted December 14, 2008

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