Book review: River Horse –

Book review: River Horse – A Voyage Across America by William Least Heat-Moon.
You may have noticed that this has been in the “current reading” list in the navbar for ages. I bought it a long time ago, a souvenir of what was, ultimately, a fruitless trip to London. It has taken me a long time to read for several reasons – partly due to distractions (work, other books, marketing studies and exams, beer) and partly due to the fact that it is not a slim volume that you can polish off during one train journey. But it is an excellent book, which I highly recommend.
Heat-Moon recounts his journey for New York to Oregon by boat – going across rather than around the lands of America, by riverboat and canoe on river, lake and canal, with minimal overland portages. For anyone who has read his classic work, Blue Highways, which recounts the story of a journey by road around the US, this journey is far more ambitious and challenging. The account not only covers the simple act of travelling, but also the people he meets, the places he visits, the country he passes through and an insight into the state of mind of the traveller. His tendency to use flowery and archaic language actually enhances the book rather than making a barrier to enjoyment, drawing the book closer to the journals of the pioneering explorers of the American west such as Lewis and Clark, who Heat-Moon clearly hopes to emulate. In many ways it reminded me of the writings of Ernest Wilson and Reginald Farrer, plant hunters of central and eastern Asia who documented their journeys so well.
You actually do feel involved in the journey, such is the intimate and personal style of storytelling employed by Heat-Moon – he manages to convey the exhaustion of the journey, the disappointment when a problem is encountered and the elation at journey’s end. Certainly, I think this book will do more to discourage anyone from following in his wake than encourage copycat travellers – the arduous nature of the trip is clear.
If you enjoy travel writing, read this book. If you enjoy reading about people and culture, read this book. And, if you read blogs and journals, then you should read this book also – many of the sentiments will be familiar.