Tonawanda News

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January 7, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Niagara County, seen through a very special lens

Tonawanda News — The book “Niagara Digressions,” by E.R. Baxter III, is definitely about Niagara County -- the author’s love of place comes through admirably -- and is definitely about digressions.

A poet and former English professor, Baxter is a storyteller, with the Niagara River, Indian tribes, factory life, what’s wrong with the City of Niagara Falls, indigenous wildlife and the chemical residue of local life on his mind. He mentions friends, plenty of them, and incidents, adventures and observations.

As a collection of anecdotes, they are well-constructed views of how time and other things changed northwestern New York State, and not for better, but plowing through one after another could be regarded as a tough slog for a reader. Not every story has a punchline or a moral; they are simply comments on what happened in the author’s life.

The reader will identify with some, but not all of them, and therein, I suspect, is a problem. His thoughts on rabbit hunting did not engage me, but those on working in a factory, in his case “International Graphite Electrode where they manufactured graphic electrodes for arc furnaces,” did, simply because this reader does not do the former and did a lot of the latter. As he writes about several dozen fields of interests, Baxter seems like an engaging friend who can veer off to opine on topics the listener patiently endures, awaiting something more interesting.

So it goes here, chapter after chapter of short narratives about what happened to the game, the fresh water, Niagara Falls’ Shredded Wheat Factory. It’s barroom conversation from a skilled talker and phrase-maker. Fascinating, but it can get tedious in print.

Baxter knows his history, fortunately. Many of his stories have dates and names attached to the circumstances -- the year something happened, a factory closed, another opened. This alone is useful to better understand his tales and opinions, helpful if the reader lived through Baxter’s years in Niagara County. Personally, I’m from Erie County, and treated the book more as a one-man history lesson than any roll down memory lane.

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