Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


My photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Friday, July 8, 2011

book tours & blogging

I'm on the road through eastern Canada, on a book tour, doing interviews and readings, and signing copies of my new novel THE O'Briens, whose official publication  date in Canada is tomorrow, July 9. ((Pub. date in the US (Pantheon) is March 2012)) Charles Foran has just published a review on the National Post website:

Book Review: The O'Briens, by Peter Behrens
National Post
His remarkable debut novel, The Law of Dreams, published in 2006 when the author was 52, told a harrowing tale of potato famine Ireland and coffin-ship ...

It  surprises some people I meet on the tour that  Autoliterate isn’t about books, or the literary life. Instead its subjects are “trucks, cars, highways”, and the aesthetics of these things.
          One of the reasons it’s not a book blog is there are so many good ones already out there. I started Autoliterate soon after reading Everyday Aesthetics by Yuriko Saito, who makes the point that everyday aesthetic experiences and concerns occupy a large part of our life. Because of their mundane nature, we tend not to pay much attention to these, let alone examine their significance. We usually only apply the aesthetic discourse to art.
        Why not explore the aesthetics of everyday things, especially things as dominant and powerful as trucks, cars, and highways? 
         That’s what autoliterate has been trying to do.
         A note on style.  When I write the blog I find myself using the royal “we”, which some people find tiresome. I never minded it, and still regret  the New Yorker dropping it. These days Talk of the Town pieces are signed, and runneth over with writerly reputation, ambition, and personality. I prefer the anonymous cloak of that we. 
          I’ve been crazy about old cars and trucks since I was a little boy. When I was five I could tell you the difference between a ’58 and a ’59 Chevy: I don’t know why. There’s an essay, Love Cars , where I try to explore this. My father had a cosmopolitan, urbane, European upbringing. He loved ships and sailboats, but couldn’t have cared less about cars. I grew up in Montreal, not an auto-centric city. In fact, Montreal probably has the highest proportion of non-drivers on the continent, except for Manhattan. Was I acting out rebellion, as a car guy...or was I just a boy-conformist, sniffing the (smoggy) air of the culture at large? I was certainly bored with the European modes of my family's Montreal existence--in our apartment, in our neighborhood. I wanted a taste of that great North American open road. I was happiest on family road trips.

  "PB, California, 1986"       JW Burleson photo ©2011
Highway mythology in North American life…I think the shape of the mythology has changed over the decades, and highways now often feel like the bars or walls of a prison. Massive highways rule our landscape now and the roads and the sometimes paranoid men who build them are way too influential. The interstate system has done all sorts of things to America, changed the way we live, in my lifetime. I think we ought to stop building them and I'll be happy when we start tearing them up and sowing the ground with trees, grases, crops--(as long as we don't sow more corn!)  
However my first major literary crush was Jack Kerouac. The title of my collection of stories was NIGHT DRIVING. Highways as avenues of escape have always had a hold on my imagination, likely going back to infant days, when my family would leave hot, humid, stinky Montreal in midsummer in our 1959 Catalina, and drive over the cool green mountains of New England, to the ocean beaches of southern Maine. 
                But my novels are not much interested in cars: THE LAW OF DREAMS happens in 1847, and many of the crucial scenes in THE O'BRIENS happen on trains. There is a bit of driving over New England mountains in The O'B's, but  Autoliterate is the garage where I usually keep my car/truck obsession.

I'm in Nova Scotia at the moment, with the brand-new, just-out novel, and a new camera,. I hope to shoot cars and trucks and roads. I'm in Tatamagouche, N.S. tonight, on the Northumberland Strait. Tomorrow I drive to Sandy Cove, N.S. which is on the Bay of Fundy shore. Details of the tour itinerary and appearances are up here.

BTW, if you want to hear me talk talk about my new novel, this Sunday, July 10, at 8:10 am EDT you can stream an interview I did for CBC Radio. They also post the audio on the program site ( and say it should appear by Sunday, or Monday at the latest.

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