BOOK: "True Fans," by Dan Austin (Lyons Press, $19.95)

TARGET AUDIENCE: People who believe in the redemptive power of poverty.

When Dan Austin's plan for a videotaped cross-country bicycle odyssey falters for lack of funds, he goes anyway, even though it means he and his two companions will have a budget of $10 a day and they will live mostly on a diet of "True Fan Sludge" (don't ask). But Good Samaritans -- "heroes," in Austin's view -- appear with astounding frequency, buying them dinner, letting them crash in their apartments and giving them police escorts. These saviors are allowed to sign the "Hero's Ball," a regulation NBA basketball that Austin presents to the Basketball Hall of Fame at the end of the 4,800-mile pilgrimage from Venice Beach, Calif., to Springfield, Mass.

Austin and his crew of Utah Jazz fans roast in the desert, freeze in the mountains and are assailed by their arch-enemies, the automatic sprinkler systems that drench them every time they try to poach a few Z's on someone's lawn. But although Austin's unquenchable optimism is hard to take sometimes, his tale confirms faith in humanity.

-- Jerry V. Haines