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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Open Letter to William Least Heat Moon

Dear WLHM:

With your first wonderful best-selling book, Blue Highways, you leapt onto my favorite authors list, long before I became a bookseller. I won't list all my reasons for loving that book, because I loved everything about it except--Michigan got short shrift. One brief, bad experience in Mt. Pleasant, and you skipped out on all the rest. No wandering (or moseying) along the shores of Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior, no visits to small towns from the Indiana line to the Keewanaw, etc., etc. All these years later, whenever I take Blue Highways in hand or speak of it, I mourn the exclusion of almost all of Michigan. Call me provincial. You do great honor to American provincial life in general and to other regions in particular. Why not us?

Now I'm looking at your new book, Roads to Quoz, and thinking, whatever other delights it surely has in store for me, what a shame WLHM did not even set foot within our borders. Here are journeys from coast to American coast, and we have been as completely bypassed as if we were Ontario. Our farms and forests, roads straight and winding, eccentrics and straight types--beautiful rivers, lakes almost beyond number, a population as diverse as the world's (well, almost!)--have all been ignored. I could weep! It isn't only (though it is partly) that everyone loves to read about themselves; it's also that we are not New York or Miami or the Grand Canyon or Hollywood, and it's easy for foreign visitors to the U.S. to fly right over Michigan on their way from Manhattan to Chicago, and they are missing so much, and you could have introduced them to a few bits of it, and--well, can you tell I am keenly disappointed?

Years ago, looking through a travel guide to the state of Maine, I remarked to my husband that it would take a lifetime to learn intimately all the varied regions of that large northern state as well as I feel I know Michigan. Now of course I don't expect you to spend 40 years here, as I have, but how about three months? Or how about a mosey around the Great Lakes (I'd go into Canada, too, if I were you; it's what I do being me), with an extended period exploring our state's two peninsulas?

If you (or you and Q) were to come next August and wander through to the end of October, you would find adventures and sights well worth your time. I could provide you with a reading list (begin with Bruce Catton) and even a few suggestions as to roads and points of interest, but you hardly need me or anyone else to tell you, William Least Heat Moon, after all, how to travel two-lane roads. All you have to do is cross the state line, entering from Indiana, Ohio or Wisconsin, and ride around. You'll be glad you did. And I can't wait to read about the trip.

Yours sincerely,
P.J. Grath
Dog Ears Books
106 Waukazoo Street
Northport, Michigan 49670

P.S. If by any remote chance you should actually see this letter, please look at some of the older posts on this blog for images of Michigan. This past September would be fine. I'm hoping to be posting new pictures by next week.


Gerry said...

I've felt exactly that way about WLHM. Great work. Wait, wait - how could he leave us out??? (Well, OK, Prairyerth, I can see how we didn't make that one.) So maybe we should double-team him. We can write about the Michigan he never saw, with all the passion he has for Kansas. Kansas. Then we gotta find a way to get him to read what we wrote.

Maiya Willits said...

I had an interesting conversation about WLHM with the innkeepers I stayed with in Ste. Genevieve, MO. He stayed at their place while he was passing through on his "River Horse" journey, and they had some very entertaining -- and not particularly nice -- things to say about him. You'll have to read MY book when it comes out("Washing Down the Mississippi") to find out more about THAT! :)

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, one thought I had relative to your suggestion is that Jerry Dennis should have a new book coming out soon on Michigan's shores. So much of what I love, though, is small and "ordinary" rather than spectacular--but ordinary in ways lovely and wonderful, in my opinion. Most of what I write here is focused on Leelanau, but wandering Michigan from top to bottom is something that never loses its allure for me.

Maiya, we have already been looking forward to your book, too, as you know! That was an epic solo journey you made, down one Mississippi shore and back up the other, and I know that what we have heard about the trip so far only skims the surface.

dmarks said...

I love William Least Heat Moon. I first saw "Quoz" a few days ago. I have not read it yet. The last one by him that I read was "River Horse", which I loved.

Miaya: Please let me know about this book! I grab every Mississippi River journey book that I can find. I've blogged about them before.

P. J. Grath said...

Don't worry, dmarks. As soon as Maiya's book is available, you'll hear about it from me!

Geoff Shandler said...

Well, it won't quite count as a reply from Heat-Moon, but since he's on the road at the moment (speaking about QUOZ), you'll have to make do with me, his editor at Little, Brown.

I've never really spoken with Heat-Moon about possible destinations, but he certainly has an endless curiosity for all places American, and speaks often about where he'd like to go next. He loves to encounter the uncommon, the strangely beautiful, the lonesome celebration. Our hope is that QUOZ gets a wonderful reception, and further travels are thus inspired. If he tells me he's thinking about heading to Michigan, I will do my subtle best to encourage him.

P. J. Grath said...

Geoff, I'll make do with you happily, pleased that you found me. As for subtlety, you know best if that's the best approach.

Michigan. My life odyssey began in South Dakota, moved on to Illinois, then brought me to Michigan. There were side trips to New Jersey, Ohio, and back to Illinois, but Michigan has been home and has had my heart for a long time. I'm not very subtle about my love for it (and certainly not objective), but that's not an apology, just a statement of fact.

Thanks for writing. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Gerry said...

No celebration is more lonesome than the ones we have in northern Michigan in the deepest dark of the winter. No beauty is stranger than Torch Lake in a bitter hour, turned suddenly into a thick, clear magnifying glass.

I am prepared to admit there may be other places and other experiences that are equally lonesome and beautiful.

P. J. Grath said...

Sorry, Geoff, that I neglected to wish WLHM best wishes on his book tour. Somehow it seems a bit presumptuous on my part to do so, but all of us here in Michigan do, of course, wish him the best. I remember one return trip from Illinois when I uncharacteristically made the decision to take Interstate rather than one of my usual slow, meandering routes. Stuck for hours in road work, immobilized on the "Super Slab," I did at least have the luck to have BLUE HIGHWAYS with me, so I could sit and read, in those uncongenial surroundings, of the kind of roads I should have taken.

Again, welcome any time to the Mitten and the Wolf's Head.