Feasting Slowly: An International Smorgasbord of Books

 

My mom read sixty books this year. That’s more than a book a week. Another Ricochet member offered an impressive post on his 2020 reading list where I see that others enjoy a similar diet. I don’t know how you all do it. I read nightly, snacking on my stories for a few minutes before falling asleep, and then partaking of extended meals on occasions when I’m awake in the wee hours. I always have a book or two on my plate. Despite this, it takes me weeks to finish a work, and I realized that I’ve completed only a handful of books in 2019/2020 and sampled a few others. I count my daily grazing at Ricochet as reading, too, so I suppose I could figure in the equivalent of a year of bi-monthly magazines to account for that.

I usually skip the dessert of fiction that keeps me up at night and stick with autobiographical stories and engaging histories with subtle, well-rounded layers. These works, often two-dollar Kindle deals, can have imbalances that earn them a few one and two-star ratings on Amazon. However, I often find them satisfying or even deeply nourishing. Most selections originate from places and times outside my own: the South Seas in the 1700s, Europe, Africa, the Middle East. Some of these international repasts were unforgettable, others savory and filling, and a few meriting abandonment after several bites.

As a first course, I’ll include one I finished at the end of 2019 since in all its richness, I was still digesting it in 2020. Tony Horwitz’s  Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, had its structural issues; the author visits the sites of Captain Cook’s voyages and switches between past and present, resulting in a satiating narrative. However, this was one of those works that changed the way I view the world. I summarized the experience in rushed verse in October, with updates around Thanksgiving and Pearl Harbor Day:

I’m on Cook’s third voyage, and the story has been dragging for some time, now. Still vivid and informative, though. Just too long.

The book gave a stunning account of Cook’s last days. It’s overwhelming, like a crescendo—the majestic setting; the teeming, friendly Hawaiians; the building tension; the ongoing mysteries in the surge of violence and what happened afterward. 

One aspect of the story that simmered in my mind for months after was the author’s bold inclusion of the crew’s transgressions and Cook’s complex involvement in them, in contrast to the understated infusion of barbarities by the sunny islands’ inhabitants. Any author with integrity would not leave out staple truths, and the hints are there–accounts of worship places with human remains, a nod toward cultural taboos, the strange fate of Cook’s corpse. Under the attractive presentations Cook’s men encountered, there must have been dangerous layers, but beyond a few clues, the author spends little time exploring these.

The first contact stories lingered pleasantly for me, the most savory occurring near Alaska, where the ship’s crew and curious natives in a canoe sang to one another past nightfall. Reading this book also filled in my mental map–I’ve grown in my conception of South Sea islands and of Europe’s first acquaintance with Australia and New Zealand. Cook was always mentioned in my history books, and I remember studying his portrait. But reading a bland textbook list of his accomplishments cannot compare to experiencing the harsh, piquant, bittersweet voyages under a brave and brilliant captain.

Hold on to your fork, I have more reviews to add in the coming weeks.

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  1. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker
    @CarolJoy

    After reading this sentence of yours, The first contact stories lingered pleasantly for me, the most savory occurring near Alaska, where the ship’s crew and curious natives in a canoe sang to one another past nightfall.

    I find myself wondering what they sang, how they expressed other sentiments. For instance,  did they wave to each other or not?

    Of course a great deal of the author’s details are invented, I imagine. Or did he have access to any written materials from a diary or ship’s log to use? Even with those resources, he still needed to use his imagination.

    • #1
  2. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    I read a lot. I don’t bother listing the books I read. There are too many for me to waste time listing them. Nor (unlike anonymous) do I feel compelled to write a review for every book I read. Of the books I read for my review column, I generally read three books for every one I review. A lot don’t make the cut. I’ll read an additional three or so books per week, just for fun. Plus, every book I write required me to read 20 to 30 books for the research. I wrote five books this year. 

    It’s a good thing I read fast.

    • #2
  3. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):
    Of course a great deal of the author’s details are invented, I imagine. Or did he have access to any written materials from a diary or ship’s log to use? Even with those resources, he still needed to use his imagination.

    In these passages, the author quoted from vivid eyewitness account(s).  

    • #3
  4. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    It’s a good thing I read fast.

    I guess so!  I think I read a half dozen full books this year. What is up with that?  

    • #4
  5. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    It’s a good thing I read fast.

    How did you teach yourself to read fast or did you? 

    • #5
  6. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    As I have written before (https://ricochet.com/772680/on-being-entitled/ ), I am a sucker for a good book title.  Your’s would have made the list.

    Thanks for the review.

    • #6
  7. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    It’s a good thing I read fast.

    How did you teach yourself to read fast or did you?

    I dunno. I just do. My brothers do as well. I think it may be genetic.

    • #7
  8. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker
    @CarolJoy

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):
    Of course a great deal of the author’s details are invented, I imagine. Or did he have access to any written materials from a diary or ship’s log to use? Even with those resources, he still needed to use his imagination.

    In these passages, the author quoted from vivid eyewitness account(s).

    I think you just offered further reasons to get this book. Thank you.

    • #8
  9. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker
    @CarolJoy

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    It’s a good thing I read fast.

    How did you teach yourself to read fast or did you?

    I dunno. I just do. My brothers do as well. I think it may be genetic.

    I read very quickly also.

    Early in my life as an adult, I commented on memos or even four page business proposals far too quickly to be taken seriously. So I learned to read anything handed to me at least three times, as otherwise my boss or coworkers thought I wasn’t bothering to read it before commenting.

    • #9
  10. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    It’s a good thing I read fast.

    How did you teach yourself to read fast or did you?

    I dunno. I just do. My brothers do as well. I think it may be genetic.

    I read very quickly also.

    Early in my life as an adult, I commented on memos or even four page business proposals far too quickly to be taken seriously. So I learned to read anything handed to me at least three times, as otherwise my boss or coworkers thought I wasn’t bothering to read it before commenting.

    Heh.  Been there.  I was tested in high school: 600 wpm @ 99% comprehension.  Don’t know what it might be now, but fast reading has been helpful all of my life.  Except when I was doubted for reading too fast. /:

    • #10
  11. David March Reagan
    David March
    @ToryWarWriter

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    It’s a good thing I read fast.

    How did you teach yourself to read fast or did you?

    I dunno. I just do. My brothers do as well. I think it may be genetic.

    I used to read very fast, but I got out of the habit.

    • #11
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