My summer reading took a turn when I found an old stack of my grandmother’s books about the sea.
Our cottage is on a cliff above the sea in Nova Scotia. My grandmother, who lived in Truro, was an avid collector of Canadian books. Her books have been stored at the cottage for several years. The paper feels thick and is curled and tastes like salt*.
I also read other sea stories that our relatives had crammed into the bookshelves over the years. A few were mine as this isn’t a new habit. From Moby Dick to South, I’ve always loved a good sea yarn.
The sea has so many moods and it is fascinating to read descriptions that try to capture it and then go have a look for myself. I never see the same thing.
To read a great sea story is to read abut human nature. The strength of the sea pushes the characters so that we can see of what they are made.
Jack London’s character, Wolf Larsen, is a rather Hobbesian example:
“This body was made for use. These muscles were made to grip, and tear, and destroy living things that get between me and life. But have you thought of the other living things? They too have muscles of one kind and another, made to grip, and tear, and destroy; and when they come between me and life, I outgrip them, outtear them, outdestroy them. Purpose does not explain it. Utility does.”
–Jack London, The Sea Wolf
The Lifeboat is a more recent tale about surivivors of a wreck:
But with the fish, I felt we had come very close to the thin membrane separating the living from the dead and that no matter what pretty names we had for things–coq au vin or angels on horseback or lobster Newburg–the hard fact of the matter was that life depended on the ability to subjugate other creatures to our use.
–Charlotte Rogan, The Lifeboat
The sea stories I read:
- Great Sea Stories of Modern Times, William McFee (1953)
- Sea Wolf, Jack London (1904)
- A Muster of Arms and Other Stories, Thomas H. Raddall (1954)
- The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch (1978)
- Of Whales and Men, R.B. Robertson (1956)
- The Grey Seas Under, Farley Mowat (1958)
- The World’s Greatest Sea Mysteries, Michael and Mollie Hardwick (1967)
- The Lifeboat, Charlotte Rogan (2012)
Life may sometimes be nasty, brutish and short, but reading about the sea with salt in my hair and sand in between my toes makes it much less so. I have to conclude that I’m better off reading about the sea than being stuck on it.
I am currently casting for other sea stories. Do you have any to recommend?
*Yes, I lick books. Just to be sure.