Blow For The Landing: A Hundred Years Of Steam Navigation On The Waters Of The West, by Fritz Timmen
I wanted to like this book more than I did. In many ways this book seemed like less than the sum of its parts. Individually, when one was able to overlook the typos in this book, there was a lot to enjoy in the individual parts of the book. There were a lot of great stories about various ships and their mishaps and histories and experiences being renamed and in the way that shipping has long been important but also frequently imperiled aspect of life in the West. But the stories didn’t add up to something more interesting, and they were not organized in such a fashion that felt complete or that felt well-put together. I can’t help but think that this is a book that I would appreciate far more if it was lightly copyedited and if it was reorganized in such a way that it was organized in a topical and/or chronological fashion that somehow felt as if the pieces were part of a larger whole that had some sense of structure and unity. It is easy to take such structure and unity for granted in a book, it must be admitted.
Insofar as this book has a structure, it is worth noting that the book is a bit more than 200 pages and feature a lot of intriguing illustrations. The book begins with appreciation, then moves to a table of contents and list of illustrations, and then more than 50 pages of the book is taken up with the main content of the book, namely an essay on steamboats in the West called “Blow For The Landing” that talks about the various monopolies and efforts at overcoming river rapids that existed on the waters of the West from the early settlement period to the 1900’s, when not only railroads but also trucks began to make the steamboats more or less obsolete in many areas, like logistics. The rest of the book consists of various random and scattered vignettes, some of them reflections on areas, on steamboats in general across the West up to the modern period, and sometimes the sort of stories that would likely appear in local newspapers. There is a lot of humor in many of these stories, some of which are the sort which, standing alone, would be very worthwhile to read in blog entries or newspaper editorials and articles about local history in areas like the John Day river or the Dalles or Oregon City.
But while these stories are individually compelling, together they are not as enjoyable because one never knows where one is going next, and even the book has an epilogue and then some material after the epilogue that looks like it was just added on after the book was being readied for publication. Early in the book the author reveals that he had a hard time writing this book, and from the haphazard organization of the book, one can tell that the author labored a great deal over this book. One wonders, though, if the book would have been less taxing on the author if he would have been able to organize and structure his thoughts in such a way that he had an idea of what more needed to be done to fill out the structure, and what areas he could emphasize to provide a more balanced and complete look at steamboats in the West. Still, one does not read the sort of books that one would prefer, and it is refreshing in at least some sense that the author simply wanted to write about steamboats in the West and didn’t have a burning agenda that forced a particular structure on the book.