Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Books That Talk to Each Other in My Head

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship EssexTonight I finished In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick's fairly captivating history of the tragedy of the whaleship Essex. I didn't know a thing about the Essex before reading it (the ship was attacked in the Pacific by a sperm whale in 1820, leaving 20 crew in three whaleboats to try to navigate a couple of a thousand miles to South America. Some of them made it.)

Moby Dick (Oxford World's Classics)What I did know was Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, which I read for the first time last year (only because of the "I Will if You Will" book club at MonkeySee, which was a fun experience indeed.) Melville used the at-the-time-infamous events of the Essex as fodder for Ahab's venge-quest against the White Whale. So as I read In the Heart of the Sea, I kept burbling up with "oh, that's the back story on all the Nantucket Quakers!" and "so, the stuff with the races on board was even more divisive, then," and various other jump-backs to the Melville story. (Not to mention that Philbrick gives a far less cuckoo-pants version of whale anatomy and dismemberment than Melville did. But Melville clearly had more fun with it all.)

Master and Commander (Paperback)Meanwhile, when I read Moby-Dick, I constantly hearkened back to the Master and Commander series by Patrick O'Brian, which I read (or actually had read to me by audio-crush Simon Vance) between fall 2009 and spring 2010. So reading Melville I had a lot of O'Brian floating around in my head defining topgallant sails and watches and various other nautical rigmarole.

So by the time I picked up the Philbrick, I had Melville and O'Brian bouncing around in my brain, and really, they just wouldn't shut up with the chit-chat amongst themselves. Yarns about Galapagos turtles and fishy first mates and that time in Valparaiso went sailing round and round in my thoughts. Not to be outdone, Unbroken contributed plenty of compare-and-contrast stories about being adrift in the Pacific 125 years apart. And I loved it all. I love when books get together. Especially when they jump genres - when it seems like everything I pick up has to do with twins, or Paris, or whatnot, no matter how little else the books have in common. It's just a delight.

Coming up soon on my reading pile is Philbrick's book about Little Big Horn, which will play nicely, I'm sure, with Empire of the Summer Moon and The Worst Hard Time, which have already had a few play dates in my mind. (You wouldn't think those two would play nicely with anyone, but they're surprisingly congenial.) I'm very much looking forward to the ruckus.


  1. The turtle is becoming quite the motif.

  2. Unbroken was awesome. Must read this too. Love sea stories. Sort of. Have to take a Dramamine first though......

  3. Since Moby Dick is one of my favorite books, I read The Heart of the Sea several years ago. It has led me to a wealth of great shipping disasters. Give Ship of Ghosts by James Hornfischer a try - it combines a ship, a disaster, WWII capture by the Japanese, and sundry other sufferings. It will probably have a long conversation with Unbroken in your head - it certainly has mine!

  4. I have had Blue at the Mizzen, the last in the O'Brien series, for almost a year. I can't bring myself to read it, because I just don't want it to end. The Philbrick books sounds right up my alley - have to check to see if I can get it on Kindle, or my local library.

    I read a Discovery of Witches, and since then it's been constantly telling Twilight "See, this is how grown-ups write Vampire love stories."

  5. Mamatua, I've got Discovery of Witches on my hold list at the library - everything I've heard about it has me really looking forward to it.

    I even read 21, the unfinished Aubrey/Maturin, just to wring every last scrap of O'Brian out that I could get.

    S, thanks for the Hornfisher rec. You were the one who recommended Philbrick & also Egan, right?

    Alice, you crack me up. As usual.