Illustration by William T. Vollmann

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William Vollmann's adventurous streak turns to freight-jumping in his new book, his energetic writing as infectious as his output is daunting. Riding Towards Everywhere is a quick sweetheart of a book full of optimism in man's ability to be good without the hope of a reward, even among those possessing nothing more than a sleeping bag and an idea of where the next northbound is headed. For Vollmann, nearing 50 and with bad eyesight, a broken pelvis and a loss of balance from a series of small strokes, the feeling of sneaking onto a boxcar as it leaves a yard for who knows where is worth the discomfort and the danger. He measures his own experiences against those of Twain, Hemingway, Jack London and Kerouac, never really caring what direction the train heads in, as long as it takes him a little closer to a kind of American freedom he feels is nearly extinct in our time. Vollmann will probably arrive at Book Soup by more conventional methods, but his campfire stories will be well worth hearing in person. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Wed., Feb. 6, 7 p.m. (310) 659-3110.

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