Literature: Homegrown Books

Title: River House // Author: Sarahlee Lawrence // Publisher: Tin House Books // October 2010 // 272 p.

Title: Atchafalaya Houseboat // Author: Gwen Roland // Publisher: LSU Press // 2006 // 161 p.

In the midst of these travels, I’ve been reading books about settling down. As someone who dreams about living in an off-the-grid cabin in the woods, I’m naturally drawn to nonfiction books that explore outdoor living or alternative living arrangements. So when I saw Sarahlee Lawrence’s River House on a prepub list for this month, I asked for a copy. And when a friend suggested I take her copy of Gwen Roland’s Atchafalaya Houseboat to read on the plane, I gladly accepted the extra weight in my carry-on.

River House is the story of a young woman’s quest to build a house by hand on her family’s ranch near Terrebonne, Oregon. By age twenty-one, Sarahlee Lawrence had rafted some of the world’s most gnarly rivers, and she was an accomplished river guide. But despite her far-flung adventures, she started longing to have a home, one that she’d build herself in a community where she wanted to remain. River House beautifully explores the idea that staying put can be just as much of a wild ride as kayaking Class V.

Likewise, Atchafalaya Houseboat tells a story of constructing and settling into a self-designed living space. In the early 1970s, Gwen Carpenter Roland and Calvin Voisin decided to turn a slave-built structure into a houseboat and tow it deep into the waters of Bloody Bayou. Roland’s story is supplemented with photographs by C.C. Lockwood, who shared their story with National Geographic readers, bringing them all a bit of unexpected fame.

If you’re into exploring the idea of settling down in a creative way, both of these books will be an encouragement. Final Word: These books are both quick, easy reads, but while each has its beautiful and insightful moments, neither is a literary standout. I’d recommend them primarily to those already interested in the topic and to those who’d like to explore it perhaps for the first time.

Photo Credit: Tin House Books (2010).

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