Robb White shortchanges himself with the title of his new memoir, How to Build a Tin Canoe: Confessions of an Old Salt. The book is so much more than its name entails. First of all, White made the tin canoe in question when he was a kid, but for four decades since then he has been building wooden boats. Second, the book is as much about life as it is about boats, and it will amuse and inform campers, anglers, sailors and just about anybody else who's willing to disengage themselves from the web or the television and taste the open air.
White recalls that he was about 8 years old when he captained his first boat; among his "crew" were 4-year-olds who he says knew more about the fish in the Gulf of Mexico and the Georgia wetlands than most graduate students in a nearby university marine lab. White's "rule of joy" permeates this warm and sometimes irreverent memoir of an outdoor life that flowered from those early years: "The important thing ain't comfort, it's joy. Joy in boats is inverse to their size. When they get big and full of engines, batteries, toilets, stoves, and other comforts, there just ain't as much room for joy." This is also a story of self-reliance: "I do not trust machinery of any kind," the author writes. "I never go out in a boat that cannot be propelled some other way. I'll be damned if I'll undignify myself by sitting helplessly out there in the hot sun dialing 911 on a cellular phone. I would rather row 30 miles, and indeed I have." White's father was a prolific author and television and movie scriptwriter. His sister, Bailey White, an occasional NPR commentator, is the best-selling author of Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Sleeping at the Starlite Motel. It's now clear that Robb White, who knows and shares "a thing or two about a thing or two," has also been blessed with the gene of gifted storytelling. Alan Prince lectures at the University of Miami.