In PraryErth: A Deep Map the author takes one single county in Kansas and almost literally becomes one with the land and its history. I never thought a single, pretty much random county in Kansas could be made, or discovered, to be so interesting.
This book is almost completely non-conventional. I almost expected to have to start reading it upside down or something. Heat-Moon creates something like an impressionist’s painting of the landscape and its past. He tells stories and describes people and places in a form of flowing prose that conveys much more than the words. The author himself does not know exactly what he is communicating with this style, but it is surprisingly easy to sense a spiritual essence being tapped into through seemingly ordinary events and places.
Heat-Moon created a framework for hanging his descriptions and insights on (though quite loosely) in the form of a grid or map of the county. Since the county is basically square, he could divide it evenly into 16 quadrants. He puts his experiences and (at times very intense) research into separate sections of the book for each of these cubic areas. This sounds a little overly structured, but actually gives the reader a particular grounding that is needed once the author begins his “dive” into each geographic area.
The writing style is as smooth as metered poetry. Unconventional font changes emphasize ideas in unique ways that give the words on the page a “voice”—almost like you are sitting there having a conversation with the author. Every character and semicolon seems to have been well thought-out and strategically placed. Even though the structure was unlike anything I’ve seen before, I don’t think I found a single typo in the whole book.
There is no way for me to describe much of the actual content of this book in any way to give it the justice it deserves. You must read it to get the real idea of what I’m talking about.
If William Least Heat-Moon could discover such depth and inspiration in one little lonely county in Kansas, it makes me wonder what we are all missing in our seemingly ordinary environments.