Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I'm Reading

I mentioned in an earlier post that, when I travel, I like to read books that relate to my travel destination.  

With that in mind, here are a few more books from our shipboard bookshelf.  And if you have suggestions for other good reads, I’d love to hear them!

A towboat named for James Fenimore Cooper's hero
The Leatherstocking Tales, by James Fenimore Cooper (published between 1827 and 1841)

A collection of five novels spanning colonial American history from the French and Indian War to the Louis and Clark expedition.  I read The Pathfinder (chronologically the first story), which involves sailing ships engaged in daring maneuvers on Lake Ontario, while we visited Fort Oswego and steeled ourselves to venture out on that Great Lake for our first major crossing.  I read The Prairie (chronologically the last story) as we floated down the Mississippi, ogling prairie wildflowers.  

You probably remember these books for the bloody battles with hostile Native Americans (or for the movie starring Daniel Day Lewis, which, though enjoyable as a spectacle, has numerous plot points you'll find nowhere in these books and (ridiculously, if you know anything about native vegetation of upstate New York) was filmed in North Carolina. What jumped out at me on this reading was the passionate conservation message.  The protagonist, hunter Natty Bumpo, loves wilderness, and as American settlers chop down trees, slaughter passenger pigeons and bison, and otherwise despoil the landscape, he flees westward.  

The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childer. (First published in 1903)

Sometimes called "the first spy novel," and undoubtedly based on the author's own experiences.  Two young men turn amateur spies as they pilot their small wooden sailboat through the complicated coastal waters of the Baltic and North Seas. I picked this book at random from a shelf in a marina laundromat and was fascinated by the detailed descriptions of shipboard life (related by the more inexperienced sailor), which so perfectly matched our own experiences. In one scene, the friends believe an enemy has sneaked on board to rifle their papers; they later confirm this when they spot a tell-tale bruise on his forehead and (having matching bruises themselves) conclude it was inflicted by their overhead cabinet.   

The Living Great Lakes, by Jerry Dennis. (St. Martin’s Press, 2003)

Dennis, a Michigan native and well-known nature writer, uses his five-week trip spent crewing  a tall schooner around the Great Lakes as the narrative backbone for a book that tells you everything you could possibly want to know about the natural history (and cultural history) of these “sweetwater seas.”  We read his entertaining account of the famous Chicago-to-Mackinac race while visiting Mackinac Island . . . and while docked in St. Ignace next to boats that had just completed the course.

1 comment:

  1. Re: Movie w/Daniel Day Lewis, are you referring to the movie, "Last of the Mohicans?" I do recall having read about Cooper's novels in the external readings for my American History courses at Wilkes College back during the 70s. That was before I changed majors 2x: first to International Studies, then to Political Science, which became my major until I graduated in 1980.