February 28, 1983 12:00 PM

by William Least Heat Moon

“Dime Box, Texas is not the funniest town name in America. Traditionally that honor belongs to Intercourse, Pennsylvania. I prefer Scratch Ankle, Alabama, Gnawbone, Indiana, or even Humptulips, Washington.” The author, an out-of-work English teacher separated from his wife, gets up one day and takes to the back roads of America in his van, looking for offbeat towns and the people who live in them. It is easy to describe this kind of travel book superficially. What is difficult is conveying the clarity of observation, the quality of the writing and the satisfaction to be found in Blue Highways. The title comes from those roads that have appeared in blue lines on the maps, the casual, narrow ones. He describes one town in upstate New York that “looked as if it had died of heart rot—from the inside out.” The author has an Indian father, and he is intensely attuned to continuing racial injustices, such as the case of a young black woman in St. Martinville, La. who loses her new job to a white man. There is much history, too, sort of tucked in, to add richness. And Least Heat Moon provides observations about plant life, the seasons, the taste of a sulfur spring. Perhaps it’s just that the people who have time to talk to traveling strangers are a special breed, but the folks that Least Heat Moon meets on his trip are articulate, aware, often funny and irresistible. There’s something here to give pleasure on almost every page. (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $17.50)

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