A literary pilgrimage
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, March 2012
As a young boy, Howard Frank Mosher would sit at the knee of his honorary uncle, Reg Bennett, and beg him to tell stories. Bennett promised that when Mosher turned 21, the two would embark on a road trip starting in Robert Frost’s New England. Then they’d strike out for the Great Smoky Mountains of Thomas Wolfe, drop by Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi, check out James T. Farrell’s Chicago and visit its great bookstore, Brentano’s (now long closed), and eventually walk the streets of Raymond Chandler’s L.A. and Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco.
Although they never had the chance to make that trip together, Mosher sets off on this long-deferred journey in 2007 after learning he has early-stage prostate cancer. This reminder of his mortality, as well as the publication of his new novel, motivates him to get behind the wheel of his 20-year-old Chevy, which he affectionately calls “The Loser Cruiser,” and set out on the Great American Book Tour, stopping to visit more than 150 of America’s best independent bookstores.
In 65 short chapters, Mosher colorfully reflects on his home and family in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and its lively and eccentric characters, such as the Prof, the old-school, two-fisted school superintendent with whom Mosher gets into a fist fight; and Verna, the Moshers’ first landlady, who made and sold moonshine whiskey and married the federal agent who refused to arrest her when he found her still. He amuses and delights us with tales of his misadventures in the Loser Cruiser, in cheap hotels and greasy spoons across America, and at his many readings and signings at bookstores both large and small, confirming that independent booksellers such as Denver’s Tattered Cover and Oxford’s Square Books are keeping alive the book as we know it.
Mosher’s lively humor and his energetic love of books and reading provide us with animated and generous reflections on the people, places and objects that he loves enough to live for.