Recommended Books & Films:
Liam Guilar's River Literature & Film List
And when I'm tired
I want, I need
Will insist upon my right
To wander through the
Hunt hephelumps with Pooh
And listen to the Piper
At the Gates of Dawn
--From the Poet's Confession and Other Poems by Liam Guilar
Liam Guilar is an unusually talented Australian writer, poet, musician and whitewater kayaker. He has organized a number of river expeditions to far flung places and made the first kayaking forays into Soviet Central Asia. A lover of the written word, he can often observed by incredulous kayaking companions, deeply absorbed in a Nineteenth Century novel, or a copy of Beowulf or Paston Letters.
The following is Liam's best (and worst) list of river-related books, films and video. The river genre is, of course, much smaller than mountaineering, but that doesn't mean there aren't some gems out there. And if anyone has the nose to uncover them, it's Liam.
(To sample some of Liam's own writing, see his on-line book: Dancing With the Bear. He has published three books of poems (Poet's Confession and Other Poems, I'll Howl Before You Bury Me, and Lady Godiva and Me). There's a nice YouTube video of Liam reciting his poems while exploring Lady Godiva's haunts in Coventry, England. If you watch the video, I'll think you'll agree with me that Liam is, indeed, unusually talented.)
(Also see Liam Guilar's list of Outdoor Adventure books)
The Best Book On Kayaking Ever Written
Does The Wet Suit You? by Whit Deschner
It's my most reread kayaking book. It's a: makes-me-wanna-go-paddle-now book (and no you can't borrow it). Does the Wet Suit You is the only book I've ever read that really captures what it's like to be addicted to this best of all possible pastimes. It describes all the crazy people and the weird and wonderful moments, never ever taking itself seriously. Out of Print: Search Amazon.com for Used Copies Also: Visit the Author's Site
Best Kayaking Expedition Book
Canoeing Down Everest by Mike Jones
A crazy early expedition, a large part of British kayaking history, made readable by Jones' sense of humor. Out of Print: Search Amazon.com for Used Copies
Best Expedition Story
Great Heart by John West Davidson and John Rugge
A botched attempt to cross Labrador by canoe leads to a race between a dead man's wife and his former partner. The heroes are a woman and a "half breed." The first bit is harrowing as it describes the paddlers starving. The second is just compelling reading. Amazon.com: More Information
Never Turn Back by Ron Watters
The story of white water pioneer Walt Blackadar, set in the context of his town and times. This is a rare book, intelligently and honestly written, an entertaining and thought-provoking biography of a hero. More Information & Best Source for Purchase: Great Rift Press. (Amazon does not stock the book.)
The Wow Award for a Kayaking Expedition Book
Demon River Apurimac by J. Calvin Giddings .
Weird group dynamics, but Gidding's captures what it's like to be heading down a river you know nothing about in a very foreign country. The photographs act as a reminder that yes, we did paddle those things. Amazon.com: More Information
Best How To Paddle Books (In that they make ya want to get up, get out and get gone)
Kayaking: An Animated Guide by William Nealy.
Probably the only how-to book that has passed into kayaking folklore. There are people who know all about Zombie factors and the spit and whistle test who have never read this book. Amazon.com: More Information
The Path of the Paddle by Bill Mason.
Long ago elevated to sacred text. I can't be the only person who learnt to paddle an open canoe with this book stuffed in a plastic bag on the hull in front of me.
Amazon.com: More Information
The White Water River Book (Honorable Mention) by Ron Watters.
While the equipment and techniques date the book, the anecdotes and the sanity are worth the price of admission. Out of Print - Difficult to Find: Search Amazon.com
Tales of White Water Terror by William Nealy. Amazon.com: More Information
Best Humor Award
Travels with a Kayak by Whit Deschner .
Not very politically correct, but very funny. Outdoor writers are always faced with the problem of how do you describe a particular journey. A case in point is the Grand Canyon which has been written about by everybody. Deschner's approach is pure entertainment--and it may give you insight into the way some of your friends think, especially if they are that peculiar life form: the English Kayaker. Information from the Author's Site
Best Individual Chapter in a River Book
"In the Gorge and Stranded" from Never Turn Back by Ron Watters (Great Rift Press)
"When the Surf's Up the Ego's Down" from Does the Wet Suit You by Whit Deschner
(See above for descriptions).
The Best (I-wanna-go-there-now) Photography Book
River Gods by Richard Bangs Out of Print: Search Amazon.com for Used Copies
Best Guidebook (As in something that's worth reading several times even after you've got off the river)
River of No Return by Johnney Carrey and Cort Conley Amazon.com: More Information
Honorable Mention Award
Yukon Solo by Karel Dohnal . A solo journey down the Yukon. What makes it work is Dohnal's descriptions of his interactions with the people he meets. Out of Print: Search Amazon.com for Used Copies
How Not to Run an Expedition Award (Good if you are teaching group dynamics/leadership etc)
Running the Amazon by Joe Kane
An attempt to be yet another first from source to mouth. The group is ripped apart by internal dissent, eventually divides into two groups and then finishes with only two people who make it to the ocean. Amazon.com: More Information.
Riding the Dragon's Tail by Richard Bangs .
The last great first. The story of two expeditions to attempt to raft the Yangtse. The first is a good story of how not to run a group. Out of Print: Search Amazon.com for Used Copies
The Not-so-well-written-record-of-amazing-achievement Award:
Marsayandi: The Illusive River of Annapurna by Barber .
Writing as record not as literature. Out of Print - Difficult to find, Try a Google search
White Water Brown Water by Alan Holman .
An oddly disappointing tale of a marvelous achievement. Holman basically soloed the Amazon from one of its upper sources to its mouth, but for some reason it doesn't work as a story. Amazon.com: Search Amazon.com
Most Disappointing Biography
Fire in the Bones (Biography of Bill Mason) by James Raffan .
You will read this and learn about Mason's life as a film maker but little of his paddling. If you compare this book, which was published by a major publishing house, with Never Turn Back, which wasn't, you can see that market forces are what drive publication, not quality. Out of Print: Search Amazon.com for Used Copies
Disappointing Book About a Great Idea:
Aguirre by Steven Minta.
The re-creation of a sixteenth century journey across South America. Don't bother. For once watch the film instead) Out of Print - Difficult to Find: Try a Google Search
Films & Videos
Best Films Based on a River Journey
The River of No Return.
I was thirteen or so when I first saw this. I'm sure the scene where Robert Mitchum saves a naked Marilyn Monroe from hypothermia by enthusiastically rubbing her with a blanket had something to do with my early enthusiasm for river journeys. (It took me a while to realize that it's the Robert lookalikes who get hypothermic!)
Aguirre (The wrath of God) .
Strange film about a strange story. The last scenes in which he drifts towards the sea in his raft are downright eerie.
Best Kayaking and Rafting Films
Fast and Clean
The story of the American assault on the world slalom championships in the late seventies early eighties. The film somehow manages to make slalom look like fun. I know kayakers who have never been near a slalom who can quote bits from it.
A rare thing: a kayaking film with a good narrative. It chronicles two attempts at a fine river while managing to give the paddlers room to be people.
A Glorious Way to Die .
Film of a Siberian rafting trip. A bit morbid, the story is about a group finishing off a river that killed some of their friends. Lots of Russian melancholy, some seriously scary white water, and the best seal launch ever filmed.
The Dumb Film Award (In which the river should have got an Oscar)
The River Wild AND Deliverance
Silliest Film Sequence Award
River of Red Ape
Sobek's slow motion descent, with little flag flying from bow of raft, of the last rapid in the lower Alas gorge (Sumatra).