When you grow up in Iowa, as I did, you don't have coasts, but you do have rivers; in fact, the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers make up the state's East and West borders. Since leaving Iowa, I have lived on both coasts, but there is nothing like a river to make me feel at home. Yesterday, my husband and I canoed on the Concord River, a river sacred to us as one year ago, we rowed down it to the spot where we were married.
This time, when we had returned our canoe to the South Bridge Boathouse, we walked back into town and ducked inside the Barrow Bookstore--a used bookstore with a great supply of New England literature. There I picked up Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. A few weeks earlier, while visiting Lowell, I had seen where the Concord and Merrimack meet. Curious, I picked up the book.
"Rivers must have been the guides which conducted the footsteps of the first travelers," Thoreau writes. "They are the constant lure, when they flow by our doors, to distant enterprise and adventure; and, by a natural impulse, the dweller on their banks will at length accompany their currents to the lowlands of the globe, or explore at their invitation the interior of continents."
I had never seen the relationship between rivers and travel so clearly. It's no wonder I felt restless in my home state, with so much water flowing by, into unseen lands. A quick browse through our Destination Literature section at Booksmith proved Thoreau's point: rivers inspire travel, and, I would add, travel inspires writing. River literature is prevalent, I discovered, and makes for a perfect summer read.
One of my favorite travel narratives, Claudio Magris's The Danube, takes place along the river of that name. Patrick Leigh Fermor made a similar trek across Europe, a journey he relates in his whimsical Time of Gifts. My most recent river-read, aside from Thoreau, was Olivia Laing's To the River, in which the author walks the river Ouse, where Virginia Woolf drowned. Meander by Jeremy Seal is another newly released river-logue. Seal rows a canoe from the Meander River's source in Turkey to the Aegean Sea. Rosemary Mahoney achieved a similar feat in her Down the Nile. And expert travel writer Paul Theoux picks up the trend in his most recent novel The Lower River.
Stop in to Booksmith to pick up your next summer read--and get ready to be swept up in a current that is sure to take you out of your depth--which can be a great place to be.