It took me longer to read PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon than any other book I can remember. Not because it was complex or one of those books that leans on style more than substance, and gets boring after the first flush of admiration fades.
No, PrairyErth, by an odd confluence of choices, fits the way I read better than most books. So I was able to make it last longer than most.
I often read more than one book at a time, particularly if I’m in a non-fiction vein. I might peruse something political while enjoying a history of bread making, and a natural history book such as the Outermost House at the same time. Depending on my mood, reading about oceans or food might win out over politics or vice versa.
In a way, Prairyerth combines many of my interests: botany, history, mythology, the intersection of geography and the cultures it spawns. And William Least Heat-Moon is a writer who pleases my palette.
I chose the cover of this book as an example of how title choice is as important as a cover’s image.
PrairyErth is an in-depth examination of Chase County, a section of tall grass prairie in Kansas. Least Heat-Moon’s work is so extraordinary, this smallish parcel of land moves its readers out-of-time, as if you enter another realm.
This feeling starts with the title. The mashup of two familiar but misspelled words—prairy and erth instead of prairie and earth—could easily be the title of a fantasy novel filled with elves and the clashing sound of swords.
The cover’s imagery, a painting called Chase County by Judith Mackey, does not intrude on the flight of fantasy but enhances it. The painting’s dominant feature is a cloud, part billow, part swirl, with touches of peach and pink on its underside. The land, with its flat horizon, beckons one to come in.
No obstructions here, it seems to say.
Imagine, however, how different the impact of this cover would be if Least Heat-Moon had insisted on calling his work Prairie and Earth. Would we ho-hum over that flatlined horizon and move on?
I think so. What we choose to call a work can be as important as the work itself.