My River Chronicles: Rediscovering America on the Hudson
by Jessica DuLong

Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2009. ISBN 978-1-416-58598-2.
Reviewed by Sharon Wildwind
Posted on 01/03/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life; Nonfiction: Active Life

I fell in love with a river, a fireboat, a sturdy little tug, and the woman in the engine room.

This book is a conversation, the kind you'd have with a good friend, sitting on a boat deck at the end of the day, feet on the railings, and a cold beer in your hand. As with all good conversations, one topic leads to another: how she left her computer job to become a fireboat engineer; what it was like to be at Ground Zero; her first-hand experience with sterotype vulnerability when she prepared to take the Coast Guard engineering license; and always, always circling back to the Hudson River and boats.

Ditch the image that the two of you are wearing perky white shorts and tank tops while having this conversation, or that your hair sports a disheveled, yet appealing wind-blown look, and your lips a fresh coat of pink lip gloss. My River Chronicles is about grease under your fingernails, needle-scaling rust, rebuilding engines, and raising sunken tug boats from freezing water.

It's also a history of the Hudson River, the 315-mile waterway that begins in the Adirondack Mountains and empties into Upper New York Bay. Arguably, without the river there would have never been a New York City.

Most of all, this book is about passion. About falling in love with something, finding you are good at it, and ultimately realizing that most people neither share that passion nor care about the fact that you have it. There is a marvelous thread running through the book about the value of hands-on work and what we've lost because the apprenticeship system had broken down. What I wanted to do most after finishing the book was fix something complicated and seemingly irretrievable with my own two hands.

Jessica DuLong, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed merchant marine officer, is a fireboat engineer. She's also a journalist, with multiple non-fiction credits. She and her crewmates were recognized in the Congressional Record following their service pumping water to firefighters at Ground Zero following the September Eleventh attacks, and were featured as characters in New Yorker illustrator Maira Kalman's award-winning children's book Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. For more information about Jessica, the river and boats, visit her web site.

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