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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book Review: From Sea to Shining Sea On U.S. 20...

It's hard to write, finish, and revise a book, and it takes courage and money to get it out there if the author wants to self-publish. Readers who are interested in self-published books but who don't want to waste their time on low-quality ones need a place to go for reviews. I'll post a review of a self-published book the first weekend of every month so that authors and readers can connect with each other. Interviews have been put on hold for now due to time constraints.

A disclaimer: I'm going to start with books by authors I know through real-life connections and through Twitter. If you're interested in getting your book reviewed, please email my assistant at bert{at}ceciliadominic.com or follow Bert on Twitter and message him there.

Title: From Sea to Shining Sea on U.S. 20: Boston to Newport, Oregon
Subtitle: Driving through the history of the expansion of the 13 Colonies across the continent
Author: Perry Treadwell
Genre: Travelogue/History

I have to admit, I'm not a big history buff. I enjoy going to museums and seeing how people lived in the past, and I like going to historic sites, but my eyes tend to glaze over when reading historical accounts with, "and this happened on this date, and this happened on that date…" In From Sea to Shining Sea, Perry Treadwell connects history with geography in a way that is both entertaining and informative.

U.S. 20 is a non-interstate highway that crosses the country from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon with only a brief break in Yellowstone National Park. Treadwell traveled it from end to end in ten years and five trips. He did the first three for the Western part (Chicago to Newport) first because it seemed less built up and therefore more interesting. However, he is fascinated by the past, and the Eastern part (Boston to Chicago) encompasses a lot of history integral to the founding of the country and the establishment of religious freedom.

I found the first half of the book to lack some organization. Treadwell had to choose how to discuss the many historical events that occurred during the founding of the country, and doing so geographically makes sense from the perspective of the book, but the history jumps around as a result. Those with a good background in history would likely be able to follow it better, but I found myself skimming descriptions of battles heavy on dates and casualty numbers.

As I mentioned above, Treadwell researched, traveled, and wrote the second half of the book first. It was this half that grabbed me and kept me coming back, possibly because I could feel Treadwell's initial passion and enjoyment. It's also lighter on war stories and has more anecdotes about settlers and their challenges.

Although I enjoyed this book, there were a few things that would have enhanced the experience. The first is maps. In spite of this being a travelogue, there are no maps aside from what's on the cover. Sure, the reader can go online and look for Google or other maps of the areas, but I prefer to read away from my computer, especially in the evenings. Having a map of U.S. 20 and the cities it crosses in each chapter would have been really helpful to anchor the journey in my mind. More pictures would have been nice, too, especially of the odd geographic structures out West. Second, I found a lot of typos in this manuscript. Treadwell has dyslexia and said he makes use of editing programs and beta readers, but there seemed to be more errors than one would find in a traditionally edited manuscript. Some were unintentionally funny, like the "serge of pioneers" he mentioned at one point, which prompted mental images of settlers in coonskin caps and plaid jackets and breeches.

I'm putting my third criticism in a separate paragraph because I realize this might just be me. U.S. 20 crosses just north of the Finger Lakes in New York and at the southern end of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Treadwell mentions a wine-growing area in Ohio in passing but completely neglects to mention wine as a major industry in these two areas. That's history I'm interested in, but maybe others aren't, and perhaps it occurred later than most of the events Treadwell recounted.

The two things I really liked about the book were the descriptions of how religious freedom grew and became formalized as part of our country as well as the acknowledgment of women's roles in the history of the U.S. Treadwell also deserves credit for not glossing over the horrific treatment of the Native Americans, and he demonstrates throughout the book that trying to define the "good guys and bad guys" is tough when it comes to the founding and expansion of the United States.

Bottom Line: An entertaining travelogue, especially for those who love history. It certainly piqued my curiosity about U.S. 20.

For those who are interested in self-publishing and its history, check out Treadwell's web site. He was self-publishing and blogging before it was cool to do so.

From Sea to Shining Sea is available from Lulu in paperback and .pdf.

Previous Reviews:
James Huskins' Silent Scream: A Groovy Mystery Caper
Laura Eno's Don't Fall Asleep: A Dream Assassin Novel
Donna Carrick's The First Excellence -- Fa-Ling's Map
Kenn Allen's The Golden Cockerel

Up next: Back to fiction with Gint Aras' Finding the Moon in Sugar

Disclaimer: This review was of a courtesy copy received from the author for no charge. My opinion of the book was not biased by this or by the fact that Perry and I are friends.

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