Stuart J. Koblentz, Marion County (Arcadia Publishing, 2007)
In general, I come to Arcadia Press books differently from most people. The company markets them as regional-history books, and it’s rare to find one in a new book outlet like Barnes and Noble, for example, that is not tied to the locality one happens to be in at the time. I see them as guides for the armchair traveler, ways for people who don’t live in the area to be introduced to it without spending a gazillion bucks on gas money and hotels. Now if only they came with some signature regional dishes.
The obvious implication of this is that I may well not be the audience a number of Arcadia authors are writing to, and I’ve never felt that quite as much as I did with Marion County, Stuart Koblentz’ second book about Marion and its surrounding area (if you’re not familiar with Ohio geography, in simplistic terms, it’s due north of Columbus about twenty miles; that’s not quite accurate, but good enough for government work). What’s really odd about this perception is that it felt to me as if Koblentz was trying to write in that “Marion County 101” pedantry that, when done correctly, makes Arcadia books so valuable to the armchair traveler (as I often do, I’ll single out William Burg’s Arcadia releases about various aspects of San Francisco as the gold standard for Arcadia publications in this regard), but it comes off to someone not familiar with the area still feeling as if perhaps Koblentz is a little too close to his material, and can’t see where what he’s saying is still taking advantage of knowledge most likely common to folks who live in and around the area, but that those from farther away would not be familiar with. If I’m making as little sense as I’m claiming Koblentz sometimes does here, I’ll give you a concrete example. “Green Camp Township, drained by the Scioto River and tributaries, is where the Little Scioto River joins the Scioto River. A blockhouse was erected here during the War of 1812, and Captain Green camped here, for which the township is named.” (–69) The obvious question, at least if you’re me: who’s Captain Green? If nothing else, what was his first name? Did he do anything of note during the War of 1812? As of this writing (9Nov2013), some quick Internet searches turn up no more than is here; even mentioning that all mentioned here is the limits of our knowledge about Captain Green would have been welcome. Getting people to look stuff up is great if you’re writing fiction or poetry. Didacticism? Not so much.
All that said, and despite the above, I did learn a bunch about the area, and some of the pictures are stellar. LaRue had an NFL franchise and it was captained by Jim Thorpe? I had no clue. (Note: this may be of more interest to me than most folks; my parents lived close to Jim Thorpe, PA, for a number of years, and so I’ve read a number of Arcadia books about that area as well.) And Marion was the steam shovel capital of the world? That’s fun stuff if Mike Mulligan was one of your heroes as a child. Oh, as a depressing side note: as of the book’s writing, according to Koblentz, the largest land shovel in America was retired, but still standing outside Cadiz, OH. According to a guy who posted some footage of it in action taken in the sixties or seventies (judging by the quality of the film), it no longer is as of 2011. A bummer when you’ve got a construction-equipment-obsessed two-year-old.
So, good points and bad points. Worth it if you’re looking for info on the area, but you’ll end up using this as a starting point rather than a reference guide. ** ½