I’ve been reading, with equal parts pleasure and profit, Joe Moran’s On Roads. It’s expansive, unexpected cultural history and in some ways an ideal companion volume to Traffic; while there are certain convergences, it also covers many things I would have liked to had I more space, including the 1950s conversations on designing aesthetically pleasing motorways, evolving cultural feelings towards highways themselves, among many other things. It’s U.K. oriented, so if the words Ballard, Banham, and Belisha Beacons do not present the frisson of excitement in you that they do I, be warned. It’s loaded with strange and delightful details — things like Bob Geldof working on the M25, or the so-dubbed “Mancunian Way” getting the Concrete Society award in 1968 for “outstanding merit in the use of concrete” (I’d like to thank my agent…) And, by the way, is that the very same Concrete Society that, for a brief time in the 1960s, employed the great Trinidadian writer V.S. Naipaul, a detail I got hung up on in Patrick French’s recent biography? Was Naipaul, as he banged out A House for Mr. Biswas, spending his days writing paeans to motorways?
I’ve got many pages folded over, but there is one page of particular interest for those who write about the road. As Moran notes:
Every year, more than 120,000 new books are published in Britain, creating millions of volumes that will never be opened, let alone read. Many of these unread books are shredded into tiny fibre pellets called bitumen modifier, which can be used to make roads, holding the blacktop in place and doubling as a sound absorber. A mile of motorway consumes about 50,000 books. The M6 Toll Road [as pictured above] used up two-and-a-half million old Mills and Boon novels, romantic dreams crushed daily juggernauts.
Every author lives in vague, free-floating terror of unsold pallets of his books next in line for the pulping process (after dropping through all the other Dantean levels into remainder purgatorio) but after reading the above, I can note, with distinct enthusiasm, the perverse idea that unsold copies of Traffic may some day not be read, but indeed driven upon. It could give speed reading a whole new meaning.
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