My husband and I are both readers. That is not necessarily something I knew about him during our brief courtship, because it was so brief, but it is a practice I have come to value, even after thirty five years of marriage. I am fortunate that he is such a reader, because being married to a reader when you yourself are not a reader, well, one could easily feel left out. Admittedly, he does tease me because he prefers a book he can hold in his hand, and has no interest in electronic readers, audio books, etc., where I would be lost without them.
I may not always sit at the table or in the living room and read, but I always want to be surrounded by the companionship of stories created by good writing. Sometimes we sit at the table reading, we read at dinner, which would scandalize Miss Manners, or the late Emily Post, but to us it is companionable. Yet we manage to sit together reading, while immersed in the characters, plot and setting in our hands, without having strayed beyond the dining room table.
We generally prefer different genres, although early in our marriage we played “dueling bookmarks” reading the same book at different times. One that I remember was a biography of John Adams. My favorite refrigerator magnet is something I picked up at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. It is a quote from Jefferson that says, “I cannot live without books.” All that said, here are the books that enriched my life during the last thirty days:
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex , by Nathaniel Philbrick.
This is a true story that begins with a departure from Nantucket, in July of 1819, until the rescue of the remaining crew in 1821, and the aftermath. Fifteen months into their journey, while some of the crew were in a whaleboat hunting, the Essex was rammed twice by an eighty-five foot sperm whale. The captain and crew survived the attack, but the ship was lost. The crew gathered what supplies they could onto the much smaller whaleboats. Those twenty survivors in three whaleboats, eventually dwindled down to eight survivors.
In some ways this is hard to read, it is a gruesome story, told in detail based on writings of survivors and other documentation. The battle against starvation, thirst, and the decision to survive by eating the bodies of their dead shipmates, as well as battling storms at sea, and repairing boats while in the water. The biggest surprise to me was that I was able to read this. I shy away from stories about violence or anything resembling horror, so seeing the word “cannibalism” in the intro almost put me off. But Philbrick is a reliable teller of history, and skillfully blends in depth research with storytelling.
I was drawn to this story for a few reasons. It is not his most recent book, but it had been recommended by a high school classmate almost two years ago. While cruising the book store I saw his name on a newer book, but decided to go in search of this one. Another book that picked me? I grew up close to Cape Cod, a ten minute ride from home to the Bourne Bridge that crosses the Cape Cod Canal onto the Cape. Also about a thirty minute ride in the other direction from my home in Onset to the Whaling Museum in New Bedford. So there is a geographical connection with whaling in my home state.
Another reason for this book, I have read other books by this author and really appreciate his writing. I think of him as a historian, although his background, I believe is in American Literature. The nerd in me appreciates the depth of his research and the storyteller in me appreciates his ability to spin a true story, replete with facts and not put the reader to sleep. Well, not a history loving, Massachusetts women with relatives who spent a large part of their lives at sea.
I read this book with three bookmarks, one to mark the detailed drawing of the boat, so I could look back to see what he was describing, one to mark the place I left off reading and one for ease of checking footnotes and bibliography. I always want to know where the author is getting their information from, and what the notes have to say. I may not be as smart as I think I am, call me a nerd though and I will take it as a compliment.
And then there is my dad. It is only a case of speculation whether any of my family where ever part of a crew on a whaleboat. I don’t think that my dad was, but I know he was put to sea by his father at the age of 13. Was that a Portuguese or Cape Verdean thing? I will never know. But he did spend most of his life at sea from the time he was 13 until he was 59, with few exceptions. Whenever he had too much to drink (was drunk, inebriated, three sheets to the wind?) he told the same whaling story, (sprinkled with hiccups) parts of it anyway that I recognize from early childhood. I never heard the whole story. “Thar she blows…” and “Mr. Simms, says I, shall I lower?” (the whaleboats). I do not know if it was recitation or memory, but I heard those words again as I read the book. Now and then they would pop into my head unbidden.
Eat Cake, by Jeannie Ray
Does this ever happen to you? You are reading a book that you love, it makes you laugh, chortle, chuckle and gasp, sometimes it also causes tears to well in your eyes because of the sadness in the story? You can’t wait to finish the book and yet, you never want it to stop? That is how I felt reading this book by Jeannie Ray. I do not know much about Mrs. Ray. She has written three other books that I know of, but I wish there were a lot more, because I love her writing. Her characters are relate-able, there is character transformation, which is key in my book. There are complications, revelations, surprises, laughter, tears, twists and turns. What do you do when what you always thought you would be or do, is suddenly taken away?
I am trying not to make cheap, punny comments, but this is a book you can sink your teeth into. As with other books I have loved through the years, this is a book that I could not wait to get to the unfolding of the story, the new direction of life for the characters and at the same time, did not want to see “The End” too soon. Reading this book restored to me something I had forgotten, the simple joy of reading.
One of the things I appreciate about the story that intersects with my life at the moment, is that the protagonist bakes for stress relief. Not that my baking is on the same level as hers, but I can relate none the less. And a novel about cooking that includes recipes, is a plus in my book. That said most of the recipes are way above my talent level or calorie cap, but I have made the carrot cake, without frosting, and it does make a good muffin, or side dish. Yum! There is a recipe for a pear upside down cake that looks tempting. But most of all, I love the story. I want to read her other books, but since there are so few of them, I don’t want to rush into them.
Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler
My reading goal is two books a month. For some of my blogging friends, that is setting the bar very low. However, it is a challenge, not a competition, and reading two books a month, beyond reading for sermon preparation, is something I did not think I could do. I finished my third read last night, plus am including one audio book in my report. The audio book is Vinegar Girl (A modern retelling of Taming of the Shrew) by Anne Tyler. I am glad that this is a book I listened to instead of read. One of the main characters is a Russian Scientist, and I could not have read his accent into the reading.
The book was read by Kirsten Potter and she did an excellent job. As many audio books as I have listened to in the last 20 years, I continue to be amazed at the ability of actors, and others to give voice to several different characters in a novel, and keep them straight! Since I mostly use audio books while driving, it is important to be engaged and not put to sleep by a monotone narration of a story. The thing that draws me to any novel, or television show or movie, for that matter, is whether or not I can care about the characters. If there is character transformation, so much the better. Of course, plot twists and surprise endings are also good.
One of the small things about this book that I appreciated is that the setting is Baltimore, Maryland. When an author includes locations that you know are real, or even places you have visited, or lived near, it adds an air of authenticity to the story. You just might go to a suburb of Baltimore, or a landmark and run into Kate and Pyotr. This story made me laugh, weep, and wonder. It entertained me in the busyness of my driving around life, and surprised me too. I am only vaguely aware of Shakespear’s The Taming of the Shrew, so I cannot tell you how closely the author did or did not follow the plot. But this story gave a lift to my spirit.
The only drawback, and it’s minor, is that every time I see the title, or even think about it, this is what runs through my mind:
I did finish a whole fourth book, but since this post has gotten long, I am going to save that one for next month.
This reading challenge has been a great benefit to me, restoring the joy of reading that I had long misplaced!
Thank you blogging friends for that.
Not holding back the tide,
Copyright 2020-2024 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com
Linking up with Esme’s Senior Salon and #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge