Collections for established authors are a sort of "greatest hits" between the covers. To pull this off, a certain culling should take place, a boiling off of words down to the essential marrow of prose. Less becomes more. More becomes a bore. For some writers long in the game, such as septuagenarian William Least Heat-Moon (aka William Lewis Trogdon), a collection provides a platform for settling some old scores against magazine editors whom they believe dumbed down their copy. The uneven collection of 27 previously published travel essays in "Here, There, Elsewhere" have been rewritten to reflect the author's original intent.
"Despite assertions to the contrary, exceptional is the magazine editor who truly trusts in the intelligence and creativity of his readership," Heat-Moon writes. "Setting these stories forth again has allowed me to restore elements one editor or another deemed too challenging for the audience he perceived." Heat-Moon unplugged!
Methinks the author of seven previous books of nonfiction, including "Blue Highways," "PrairyErth" and "River Horse," doth protest too much. He opens each selection with a short behind-the-scenes update of each travel piece, along with a few jabs at the original assigning editor.
With bridges burning brightly in the background, the no-longer-editorially-constrained Heat-Moon hits the road to diverse environs such as Japan and New Zealand in search of "the overlooked and presumed humdrum" and, occasionally, an excellent pint of home brew.
The 1985 article "A Glass of Homemade" is a Heat-Moon gem, an admirable combination of reportage and boots-on-the-ground observation. Twenty-eight years ago the author had to do some digging to find the Grant's Russians, Yakimas and Sierra Nevadas. He found beer heaven in southeast Alaska at Mark Tobey's pub among the "Scotch eggs, smoked salmon, mushroom canapés, brandied bread pudding." And a mug of Redhook.
"The ale rolled and jumped in my mouth, in my head. It made me drink with palate, tongue, cheeks, nose, throat and -- according to him observing -- with my eyes."
America's middle section is what ignites Heat-Moon's passions. In the essay by the same name, the author praises the CART, or the Classic American Road Trip, "a chance to move from me to thee and from thee to us and on beyond to all." Within this praise for America, no matter when it was penned and who did the final edit, you feel the lament of a man watching the homogenization of place and the diminishment of what it means to be curious about one's surroundings. No wonder he's grumpy.
Stephen J. Lyons' latest book is "The 1,000-Year Flood: Destruction, Loss, Rescue, and Redemption Along the Mississippi River." He is currently at work on a book about the Driftless Area of the Upper Midwest.