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Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 120 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River by Beth Kephart is a well imagined autobiography of the Schuylkill River (Hidden Creek) near Philadelphia told from the point of view of the river.  A hopeful river intrigued by the humans that come upon her, collecting those forgotten items, and enjoying the natural wonders of frozen surfaces and fishing.  Coupled with the poetic narrative are notes on the time period and the major events near and around the river, including the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  As the industrial revolution takes hold, the river finds that the humans who have been intrigued by her beauty and hidden secrets and those that have piqued her interest are busy moving through their lives with little thought to her, dumping their waste, chemicals, animal parts, and more into her flowing waters.

“Imagine taking a needle to the point of blood on your palm.  Imagine drawing that needle around and around, leaning in on it, forcing an edge, rearing at the creases and the lifelines, the ridges and slightest hills that forecast your happiness.  Imagine the skin giving way.

That’s skating.”  (Page 32)

There are moments of fear, curiosity, and hatred.  “How is it that I became the quickest route to your confession–the door you close to those parts of yourself that you hope no one will see?  Call me what you’ve made me, which is a grave.”  (page 87)  She’s a river (dare I call her Flo) who ages beyond her years thanks to the careless dumping and even direct interference as dams are built to harness power.  Kephart melds her prose with photography, poetry, and factual notations.  There’s a sense of nostalgia in Flow that breathes life into history, ensuring readers sense the culture of the time period, the struggles of the people, and their dreams.  The river just wants to live, but she remains curious about her own environment, curious about how the people use and abuse her, and disheartened when it seems as though she has been forgotten or replaced.

Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River by Beth Kephart is a historical look at the river and Philadelphia, handled with a careful and creative hand.  The river comes alive, just like Philadelphia’s people and her history.  Readers will learn a great deal about the river, the industrial revolution, and our nation’s history.  The Schuylkill River is no longer the hidden gem of Pennsylvania.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, is due out in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. Kephart teaches the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania. You can visit her blog.  Here’s my most recent interview with her too.

My other Beth Kephart reviews:

Mailbox Monday #231

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  August’s host is Bermudaonion The Reading Fever.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received/bought:

1.  Lake Como by Anita Hughes from the author for review this month.

Hallie Elliot has a perfect life. She is an up-and-coming interior designer in one of San Francisco’s most sought after firms, and has just recently become engaged to Peter, a brilliant young journalist. But when she stumbles upon Peter and her boss in what seems to be a compromising position, her trust in her perfect life is shaken.

So Hallie escapes to Lake Como, Italy to spend time with her half-sister, Portia Tesoro, an Italian blueblood dealing with the scandal of a public estrangement from her cheating husband. While staying in the Tesoro villa, Hallie falls in love with the splendor and beauty of Lake Como, and finds work designing the lakeside estate of a reclusive American tech mogul. The caretaker of this beautiful estate is a handsome man named Angus, and Hallie finds herself drawn to his charm and kindness, despite hints of a dark secret in his past.

2.  Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River by Beth Kephart, which I purchased from an Amazon third-party.

From acclaimed writer Beth Kephart, author of A Slant of Sun, comes a short, imaginative telling of the life of the Schuylkill River, which has served as the source of Philadelphia’s water, power, industry, and beauty for the city’s entire life.  Before that, it fed the indigenous people who preceded William Penn, and has since time immemorial shape our region.

3.  The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which I purchased at the library.

Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.

Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

4.  Joyland by Stephen King, which I purchased from the library.

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.

What did you receive?