Recommended River Reading

For a number of incredibly boring reasons, this year our intrepid barque “Lil’ Scamp”, a 14-foot Sears Roebuck canoe, was not part of the glorious flotilla that is Paddlefest, which is odd, because as a fan of books about rivers, I am currently in the thrall Old Glory: a voyage down the Mississippi by Jonathan Raban.

It might be irresponsible to recommend a book with which one is not yet finished, except in this case, the nonfiction plot is that of the Mississippi river itself, and if the last hundred pages are half as good as the first couple of hundred, I can state with confidence that this book is worth your while.  The British Raban, all his life having been fascinated with the Mississippi, decides he’s going to buy a boat and navigate its vast and convoluted length.  The result is epic, at turns bizarre, hilarious, poetic–always energetic and fresh.  His is an alien’s prespective of the American culture to be found along the Mississippi’s alluvial shore circa 1980.  He travels in an open, outboard-equipped flat-bottom boat, stays in seedy hotels, mixes with locals in  Podunk, hick bars and with a collector’s ruthlessness, collects the neighbors of the great Midwestern artery on the pike of his pen.

For others whose day jobs prevent them from taking off for the summer and hitting the water, here is some reading (warning, reading not to be substituted for actual experience):

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain.  Possibly the greatest book ever written about a river.

The Ohio by R. E. Banta.  Surprisingly sarcastic for what starts out as an ordinary book about the Ohio River.

The Mill Creek: An Unnatural History of an Urban Stream, by Stanley Hedeen…  not just about the Mill Creek, a must-read cultural and economic history of Cincinnati.  Which is perhaps what makes books about rivers so fascinating is that, as subjects, they connect so much while remaining conducive to good old-fashioned story telling.  -Ed Scripsi

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 5:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. My father’s earliest memories of the Mill Creek involve swimming in those murky waters, climbing onto the floating, bloated horse carcasses, then jumping up and down on them to see eels depart the horse from various appertures. He lived to be eighty. One cannot help but wonder how long he might have lived had he let that particular pleasure pass.

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