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Book review: ‘Route 66: An American Myth’

Before this book review begins, one needs to review the definitions of the word “myth.”

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the first entry to define that word is “a usually traditional story of¬†ostensibly¬†historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.”

Another, more commonly known definition (in the United States, anyway) for “myth” is “an unfounded or false notion.”

Roberto Rossi’s “Route 66: An American Myth” (soft cover, independently published, photographs, 83 pages, e-book available) has the first definition in mind. The book exists as a travelogue by an Italian citizen who’s enthusiastic about nature, scenery, American culture and the Mother Road itself. History envelops travelers on Route 66 and permeates their experiences, hence the “myth” of the book’s title. And the text makes clear Rossi isn’t interested in debunking false notions about the highway.

Rossi, clearly influenced by Billy Connelly’s itinerary when he traveled Route 66 for British television in 2011, takes the traditional Chicago-to-Santa Monica path as soon as he gets off his trans-Atlantic flight. The book includes side trips to Sedona, Monument Valley, Las Vegas and Page, Arizona, in the desert Southwest.

Rossi’s trip also occurred in 2014 or earlier, as it occurs before the death of Gay Parita Station owner Gary Turner and before Fanning 66 Outpost repainted its formerly World’s Largest Rocker from black to red.

He devotes a few pages to Planning a Trip (expect “at least two weeks”), What to See (“an infinite number of wonders”) and suggestions for a music mix (the 28 songs include many of the usual suspects, but also curious choices such as David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”).

Although the book is slim, Rossi sprinkles the pages with images generously. Particularly effective are the panoramic photos of Meteor Crater, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest National Park, Monument Valley and a red-dirt farm field in central Oklahoma.

Route 66: An American Myth

Two sample pages of “Route 66: An American Myth.”

And Rossi proves to be a candid but ebullient traveler, as shown by his liberal use of exclamation points. Here’s his observations about downtown Pontiac, Illinois:

Time seems to stand still here and the town is so tidy and clean it could be a filmset, complete with splendid Ford GTOs parked around its streets.

As soon as we park, a distinguished gentleman comes up to us and asks us where we’re from, he’s the town mayor and he offers to show us around — we can hardly believe it, but that’s America!

The mayor talks about his town and shows us the incredible murals scattered around its centre and even offers to take our photo under the Route 66 logo at the museum.

Pontiac will always be in our hearts, not only because it is so beautiful but because of its first citizen’s welcome; we still have the badge he gave us when we said goodbye!

Because English isn’t Rossi’s first language, the text occasionally gets a bit clunky, and one sentence fragment in Latin accidentally made it on a page. (Note: The book is available in his native language, as well.)

A few errors pop up — Rich Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Illinois, is identified as Jack Rabbit Trading Post in Arizona. And alas, Rossi doesn’t see much in Tulsa — likely because of the lack of Route 66 signs at the time that would have directed him into the city’s main alignments.

“Route 66: An American Myth” bears similarities to other Mother Road travelogues published over the years. But it’s always interesting to read what an international traveler observes.

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