Saturday, December 24, 2011

Unexpected Treasure Trove of Books

Some friends are moving away, and that's sad. They've lived on St. Croix almost three times longer than they'd planned to, and now they're on their way to Panama.

But in a sliver of a silver lining to this cloud of woe, they cleaned out their bookshelf and gave us a couple of dozen books they thought we'd like, including four they were pretty sure would interest me. Man, were they right!

I have already begun using one as a reference work for the revision of Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter. It's Samuel Eliot Morison's The Great Explorers: The European Discovery of America, an encyclopedic compilation of the histories of the mariners who "discovered" the New World – as if people weren't already living here and it needed discovering. But socio-politics aside, it's a great book. They're all here – not just Columbus and Drake and Magellan. The Cabots have their place here and Hudson and plenty of other mariners, with their tales of adventure. Some you've heard of, some you haven't. And it's not just that – there are great descriptions of ships, sailors, life at sea, that are invaluable to someone trying to write about this age and this world. Morison isn't just a thorough, painstaking historian and a colorful writer – he's an adventurer and a sailor himself, and the book includes many photos he's take on the scene. When he describes Magellan's fatal landfall in the Philippines, he shows you photos he took of the spot! Terrific book and a great resource.

Then there's The Oxford Book of Sea Stories, a volume of 26 short stories about sailors and the sea, written by a host of writers including Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Melville, both Foresters (E.M. and C.,) Jack London, Kipling, Stephen Crane and Peter Ustinov.

Also included were two that I have to admit that – shockingly – I've never read. Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, considered by many to be the best maritime adventure ever written, and Jimmy Buffett's A Pirate Looks at Fifty. I know! Can you believe it? I started reading Buffett's book in the library several years ago and was loving it, but couldn’t check it out that day and never got back to it. I will soon have resolved that hole in my literary history.

Anyway, we'll miss our friends – and Tori will really miss their daughter, who she taught last year and directed in Midsummer Night's Dream. She's a great kid. Four books is hardly fair exchange for their friendship. They are pretty good books, but couldn't they just have stayed put and lent them to me?

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