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If time, money, or other constraints prevent you from answering the call of the open road this summer, you can still take a long trip—at least vicariously—with Larry McMurtry. Roads, his latest effort, is a look at America's highways, and in a way, a larger-scale version of In a Narrow Grave , the Texas travelogue that made McMurtry a name 32 years ago. In 1968 the feisty author found the state's hidebound habitude mighty irksome; today, older and wiser, he displays a self-deprecating and reflective tone toward the country's idiosyncrasies. McMurtry drove part or all of 25 highways to research Roads, and almost anything can spark a brief but appealing discourse: a rack of Pam Grier blaxploitation films at a truck stop in Minnesota, a sign urging passersby to "Sell Your Babies" in California. Many lines resonate with Texans and other fans of long-distance travel—fast-food outlets, for example, appear "squatting vulturishly beside the road." And inevitably a little philosophizing sneaks in too: Truckers, he opines, "may be the last free men left, the true cowboys of the road."

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