If you had the chance to pick anywhere on the planet in which to live, where would you choose? Would it be in a thriving and bustling city which is full of all the conveniences and amenities any heart could possibly desire? Maybe you would prefer to settle along a beautiful beach, admiring the golden sand and enjoying the pleasant sea breeze which this location offers. Pure tranquility at its best. How about a swamp? Yes…a swamp! Does the thought of living alongside water containing rotting trees, pond scum, snakes, alligators and a horde of biting insects not appeal to you? I am guessing that it was certainly not your first choice. However, if your name is Larry Landgraf, then the swamp is the place to be. In his book, Tales from the Riverside, Landgraf pens a brilliant memoir about his life living along swampland in Texas. This is a must read for those who love tales about very real human experiences which are peppered with pure grit, determination and a heartwarming tenderness.
It has been a while since I have read and reviewed a piece of non-fiction writing and I was looking forward to tackling Landgraf’s book. I was very glad I did. I found it to be thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Essentially, it is composed of a number of short tales which explore the author’s life on the Guadalupe River along the tough, rough and challenging swamp area of Texas. The stories are all 100% true, and explore his life along the swamp in his past, present, and with hints of what is to come in the future.
The book consists of 36 short factual tales from the author’s life in the swampland. From gardening with fire ants, battling killer bees, swimming with alligators and encountering rattlesnakes which eventually end up as hatbands! Larry Landgraf has done it all! My favorite escapade involved Larry being bitten by a small copperhead snake when he was cleaning out an air conditioning unit. He decided to treat the injury himself by taking Benadryl and Ibuprofen to counteract the effect of the venom. It was not just the fact that he was bitten which made this particular tale stand out for me. Instead, it served as an excellent example of how tough this guy really is. As he says in his own words…”Just another day in the swamp!”
There can be little doubt that living in the swamp is full of harsh conditions. The author’s tales of encounters with nasty insects, various creatures and unpredictable weather conditions make that fact quite clear. However, as intriguing and wonderful as these short tales are, the book had a much deeper meaning. Larry Landgraf not only explores the struggles with nature in his book, but contemplates his own very human relationships and experiences as well. For instance, his book is full of recollections about his mother whom he emulates in many ways and who contributed greatly to turning him into the man he has become. He also shares his confusion about his first wife’s departure which eventually led to his newfound love with Ellen. Treating Ellen’s ant bites and describing the many fishing trips the two enjoy together is touching and heartwarming, in a “swamplike” kind of way! A book full of adventures and misadventures with the many interesting creatures in the swamp is entertaining but has its limits. The combination of Larry’s many experiences, combined with his own relationships, tribulations and growth as a human being is what makes this book truly exceptional.
Every book has a theme, and non-fiction work is no different. I believe the prevalent theme in Tales from the Riverside is don’t take life for granted. The author makes this point a number of times with his various life and death struggles. However, he also illustrates this theme by pointing out the fact that he is able to provide for himself without having to rely upon other human beings. The swamp provides what he needs to sustain his life. Landgraf then asks his reading audience if they could make the same claim. My guess is that the answer for the vast majority of us would be no.
Overall, I loved this book! It was unique, interesting, enthralling and engaging. In fact, I read it in a single sitting as I honestly could not put it down. I would recommend it to any audience.
5 out of 5 Swampy Stars for this one!