Bunch of Grapes to host authors Paul and Bethany Schneider


Fiction or non-fiction, take your pick. The Schneider family has something for lovers of each. Historian Paul Schneider of West Tisbury and his sister, novelist and Bryn Mawr professor of English Bethany Schneider, will read from and talk about their new books at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore on Wednesday, August 21, at 7:30 pm.

Ms. Schneider’s first novel, “River of No Return,” written under the nom-de-plume “Bee Ridgway,” is a story set in two moments in time. A young aristocrat fighting in a Napoleonic war in the early 1800s is transported forward in time to the year 2003, as he becomes a de facto member of a guild with time-traveling powers.

His attempts to adjust to the 21st Century culture, while working as a gentleman farmer in Vermont, are hampered by extreme cultural delinquency. He’s out of touch. Eventually he is asked by the guild to return to his 19th-century life to help with some guild business. There he meets a woman he admires, who also has time travelers in her family, and a love affair begins across time and cultures.

To some readers, the book may be simply an interesting fictional study of the effects of societal-cultural differences over a 200-year period, particularly having to do with the roles of men and women and their interactions; to others, it may be a sensuous multi-century romantic, mystery. It is both.

Solid character development and attention to the details of mind and matter make this page-turner a startlingly successful first novel.

“Old Man River”

Paul Schneider’s new book, “Old Man River, the Mississippi River in North American History,” is his fifth book. It will be available in bookstores the first week in September, so this talk is a sneak peak.

Mr. Schneider has developed an approach in his nonfiction about places that emcompasses everything from the geological formation of the area through the earliest years of human habitation to the controversial years of cultural and political conflict, to his personal and present interactions, in this case in a kayak or small boats.

His often humorous reflections and turns of phrase, always subtle, enliven and underscore the importance of subjects that would be sleep inducers in classroom texts.

The Mississippi watershed covers a major portion of the continental United States. It gathers the waters of the Ohio and the Tennessee rivers in the East, the Yellow, the Missouri, and the Red rivers in the West, all of them forces that shaped both the geological, political, and cultural character of our country.

Mr. Schneider’s research, documented in an extensive bibliography and notes section, reveals a dramatic human history in the area. He writes about the early builders of enormous mounds, and the multi-dimensional Indian societies that existed at the time of European contact. The gradual and troubled ascendancy of European-based cultures is documented in the writings of witnesses from the period and the latest archeological finds.

Movement down the rivers from the East contributed to the settlement of the West as Colonial America grew. Beginning with flatboats that only traveled downstream with settlers and goods from northern fields and factories, to keelboats with a limited ability to move upriver as well, with great effort, to the era of steamboats that allowed travel in both directions, Mr. Schneider parses the history, often colorful, with a novelist’s touch. River pirates and the physical impediments of floods and river detritus were not enough to stem the tide of human migration and aspiration.

The river was a stew pot, in Mr. Schneider’s view, for the emerging American culture, for Mark Twain and the blues, jazz, and country music.

The control of the Mississippi was crucial during the Civil War, and Mr. Schneider describes the sites of many significant battles in gruesome operational detail.

The last couple of chapters detail the current condition of the river and the effects of government attempts to regulate its flow and control the essential character of the river. Mr. Schneider praises the efforts to clean up the man-made pollution created by industrial dumping and agricultural runoff, but he is critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ persistent struggle to regulate the flow of most of the rivers in the watershed.

You’ll finish “Old Man River” and want more. It is an entertaining and informative trip through the middle of Middle America.

Book talk with Paul Schneider and Bee Ridgway, 7:30 pm, Wednesday, August 21, Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-693-2291 or visit bunchofgrapes.com.