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Sunday, 11 March 2018

Books, books, and friends!

How to pass the time? We both read, read, read. How to get enough reading material? Again - the answer is FRIENDS! Our friends have been ever so helpful in giving us books, or answering urgent pleas for readable book titles.

How could anyone with a sense of adventure resist a free book entitled "In Xanadu …"? It was just the first in a whole series of books given to me by Sarah B in Noosa Australia from her trade/discard pile. The author brought a scholar's insightful knowledge to his travel books of the Middle East. Of course, the books were somewhat dated - but still fascinating. Both the books themselves (just a memory now) and the author's name (regrettably forgotten) have been left behind in our wake.

Jane W and Ed K of Sechelt BC started giving me books saved in their trade/discard pile when we first started cruising offshore in 2004. Once we've read them, they're passed on. Cruising sailors rarely throw out a book - even if it's really, really BAD. Books you have loved (or have only picked up to pass the time) get left in Marina laundry rooms and Yacht Club libraries along the way. One of your first actions on meeting up with another boat is to ask what books they have on their 'discard' list.

It's an absolute necessity for those of us who are reading obsessives to let a few hundred words pass by our dimming eyes during any 4-hr watch. Otherwise we feel print-deprived and print-hungry. This is true unless you actually have life-endangering weather or a man-overboard (and then only if YOU are the one in the threatened situation).

Other wonderful 'reads'- years ago, Linda B of Simcoe Ontario recommended 'House of the Spirits' by Chilean author Isabel Allende. Since then, we've read many of Allende's books - Larry has been reading them in Spanish -some given by ship-mates Kath snd Franco of S/V Caramor. Winnie P of Ottawa gave me both Bruce Chatwin books: 'Songlines' about Australia, and 'In Patagonia'. Josephine H had me proofread her wonderful book detailing experiences as a log-recoverer in Gibsons BC. I was 'gifted' with a fascinating biography of the rabidly randy Tasmanian Errol Flynn whose father was a famous marine biologist. Also a book about the Thames barges by Patricia H in London. All along, I've been getting real books from friend Barb de F in Ferndale Washington who seemingly belongs to one WONDERFUL book club down there. A debate about some of the political books on my list would be fascinating.

My brother John (an English prof) recommended books from the time I was a teenager starting with the Russians: 'Crime and Punishment 'and 'Brothers Karazamov'. It is only now that I really appreciate the shorter works … like Tolstoy's 'Kreuzer Sonata' or the stories of Gogol. John also relished the wonderful short stories by Irish writers, like 'The Dead' (James Joyce) or 'Guests of the Nation'(Frank O'Connor) and 'A Rhinoceros, Some Ladies and a Horse'(James Stephens). He also encouraged me to read Canadian writers like Miriam Toews and Alister Macloud (sp???)

Recently, after a shared dinner in Puerto Natales I gathered book titles from S/Vs Otra Vida and Merkava and they reminded me about 'Shantaram' by Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy' 'Glass Bead Game' and about the fascinating book 'Born to Run'. Shantaram is a great and satisfyingly long book, I now find Hesse's writing very male-oriented (I must have thought myself more at home in the male-dominated clime of my early 20s) and alas - I can't get V S book on my Kindle.

In Sydney Australia, Leah L introduced me to rancher Sarah Henderson's books like 'Some of My Friends Have Tails' … all of these stories evoking a special relationship with the land and with the ranch (and family) animals. Of course, Leah (a fabulous flutist now turning her mind to becoming a veterinarian) has lived with partner Debbie and a menagerie including dogs, fostered kittens, chickens on a property also containing an echidna and a fairly harmless python (we never saw him!) In New Zealand, Wai and a Chinese boat-owner lent me some vivid and sad books about the regime there. Jen U introduced us to Bryce Courtenay … formerly a S African (and with a writing style much like Wilbur Smith) but now writing very engaging books about Australia. My favourite was called 'Four Fires' … and if you have a rage to read, it will take you many weeks to read through his output. For equally engaging but a less politically charged genre, do read writing about time-travelling - fascinating - by Jodi Taylor (friend Shelagh A lead me to these).

My relationship with books has changed a lot since my aforementioned friend Shelagh (S/V Time-Out) inducted me into the Kindle Family in 2012. Now, I can not only remember books and authors but I can also search for old Classics, for companion books and get advertising (usually unwanted) about books which I might buy. Not only have I bought and read over 300 internet books in the last 22 months of this trip, but look up books/authors I've read even if I've had to cycle them out of my device because of overburdening Kindle with new book purchases. I'm not only able to act on book advice from others, I'm also able to give it.

I've read a great deal about politics - especially lately. I try to read in a bi-partisan way, so I've not only read a lot about earlier politicians (like Lincoln - a Republican) or 'No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt' by Doris Kearns Goodwin - about these very progressive Democrats. I stopped reading Jane Mayer's anti-Trump expose entitled "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires" after I thought I thought I detected an error in Chapter 1 ... more to Google once I have internet. "Believer: My Forty Years in Politics" by David Axelrod who helped elect Obama. I also need to finish reading "The Best and the Brightest" by David Halberstam (seems to be a Democratic 'take' on the Viet Nam war but so far it is quite neutral to me!)

The fact that most of the books I read are probably written either by confirmed Democrats like Jane Mayer or confirmed Republicans mean they probably lose some objectivity. However, it's hard to read Barack Obama's pre-presidential writing without feeling that FINALLY someone who truly cared for 'doing the right thing' would be in power. I've been reading a lot of books recommended by a Canadian friend, but which portray the race situation in the U.S. Many of the writers are black themselves, and depending on where they're from, this is conveyed in their writing. For instance, wonderful writer Chimananda Ngazi Adichie says that before she came to the U.S. she never noticed that she was 'black' p. 216 of 'Americanah'). Living in Nigeria, she was among the privileged elite.

Pulitzer Winner VietThanh Nguyen was addresses his gratitude for escaping Viet Nam in the 70s, but also feels discrination in his biographical work "The Sympathizer: A Novel". A University lecturer, he doesn't attribute his feeling of alienation in the U.S. as a class issue, but as an issue of race.

"We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (a writer for ) writes about his discouragement over the momentum which was gradually lost for Black Rights over the 8 years of Obama's presidency in a series of articles published by The Atlantic Magazine. He admits to being a middle-class person whose mother went to college (he himself is the only one of his siblings who didn't). This really needs to be debated, especially his contentions that black reparation rights would supersede aboriginal rights and that black rights are more credible than the rights of Jewish survivors of WWII. Many of the black people we know in Canada did not seem to be that aware of discrimination in Canada and have only become more voluble recently. Perhaps my comment is in itself a white and racist comment. Most recently, Canadians are aware of the rights of aboriginal peoples - and this is becoming more prominent everywhere - including in Chile.


A wonderful book to read in its wide-ranging scope of detail, character development and unveiling of layers of emotion are James Baldwin's novels (which I hadn't read for 30 years). Of course they deal a lot with the racism his characters experienced but his writing is so superb that one is more aware of his great craftsmanship and sensitivity to character and plot than to the unalienable fact that - for instance - in 'Another Country' he's talking about the tragedy of race.

About non-race American politics in the earlier 1900s: "I Have Seen the Future … A Life of Lincoln Steffens" by Peter Hartshorn. Steffens was a well-connected American who lived through and participated in many of the foremost political intrigues and upsets of American politics from about 1905 until his death in 1936. Between his birth and death in privilege, he lived a free-wheeling life as a journalist, travelled extensively (and often to Russia) and was enormously influential. He started out his journalistic career as one of the 'muckrakers' - journalists in the 1900s who helped oust the Tammany boys and other crooked politicians from various cities in the U.S. and brought Theodore Roosevelt to power. He ended his life back where he started out, in beautiful Carmel with a wife 30 years younger than himself - a friend of the poet Robertson Jeffers of Tor House fame. Even after being in Russia for the aftermath of the October Revolution and for many bloodthirsty purges which followed, he maintained a sanguine attitude about his views maintaining that it was an inevitable result of the need to purge the country of the excesses of monarchy. Near the end. he ranged over to espousing Christianity and published a book near the end of his life which combined his two enthusiasms entitled: "Jesus in Red".

Books that inspire: "Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku" by David Davis - about the great Hawaiian Olympic swimmer who started surfing as an international sport.; "The Three Year Swim Club" by Julie Chekaway - an inspiring story about a great 1930s Hawaiian (Japanese) swim club who got many of his members to the Olympics. "The Great Bridge" by D McCullough - a fabulous account of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.** "Spymistress: The True Story of the Greatest Female Secret Agent of World War II" by William Stevenson**. You need to read this -m based on true events covered up by the British government for 50 years because it exposes their anti-semitism. It IS inspiring! "Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt" by Jean Naggar - about a woman who had to leave her family's home of many years during the rise of anti-semitism there, and how she re-established herself.

"A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler" by Jason Roberts, using the diaries of James Holman, who was born in 1786, became blind, and learned to train his senses so he didn't need to use a cane.
"A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel" by Amor Towles.
"Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story - How one Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War" by Nigel Cliff

Travel: "Journey Without Maps" by the truly wonderful writer Graham Greene about travel in Africa;
"The Log of Bob Bartlett: The True Story of Forty Years of Seafaring and Exploration" Captain Robert A Bartlett - written in true Newfie style and first published in 1926
"Farthest North: Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship"Fram" 1893-96 and of Fifteen Months' Sleigh Journey by Dr. Nansen" by Dr. Fridjof Nansen (1861-1930)
"Travels: Collected Writings, 1950-1993" by Paul Bowles - fabulous & very topical - about his journeys writing for American publications mostly about Africa - he was an American ex-patriot, gay, a kif-smoker and a fabulous composer and ethnologist who went about recording (now-lost) African tribal music and little-known African instruments. He was anti-French (in Algeria and N Africa) and anti-British (in their Kenyan holdings)
"Shadow of the Silk Road" by Colin Thubron

"Victoria: A Life" (about the Queen) and "The Victorians" by British historian A.N.Wilson whose books are always reliable; and who does not 'pull any punches'.
"Churchill: A Life" BY Martin Gilbert
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard - fabulous

"A Greater Journey … Americans in Paris" by David McCullough

What really happened in China "Mao's Last Dancer"
"Do Not Say we Have Nothing" about musicians in China by Canadian writer Madeleine Thien (thanks to Nancy S)

Canadian History:anything by Pierre Berton including "The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush"
Canadian/U.S. History: Pierre Berton's 2 books about the War of 1812 (between Canada and the U.S.)

"The Ministry of Utmost Happiness" by Arundhati Roy

Specifically about Women and their plight:
"Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
"Housekeeping: A Novel" by Marilynne Robinson; also "Gilead" same author

When I'm just desperate for something to read and am out of books out here I can always turn to either:
"The Diary of Samuel Pepys" (on Kindle) ... he was the gentleman with plebian tastes (especially in 'loose' women) who turned the British Navy into such a great powerhouse! OR
H.W. Tilman: The Seven Mountain-Travel Books. His writing is always a joy to read and we have the book aboard.

Easier but beautiful reads for women:
The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George and "The Little French Bisto" … charming books for us women … thanks to Frida A.
Donna Leon Mysteries about Venice are the greatest! Thanks Nancy S in Ottawa
"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson and also "The Summer Before the War" … she relies heavily on the work and style of British author Barbara Pym - so anyone who reads these should also read the style she's copying - "No Fond Return of Love", "Some Tame Gazelle", Excellent Women", "Quartet in Autumn" and many others by BARBARA PYM
"The Vacillations of Poppy Carew" and "Jumping the Queue" by Mary Wesley are great books by a woman who only started publishing at the age of seventy … hopes for all of us yet!

About the most difficult book I have ever read … horrifying all the way through is "Collapse of a Country: A Diplomat's Memoir" by Nicholas Coghlan… it shows the exemplary courage of the author who travelled to war-torn South Sudan with his wife Jenny as our Canadian Ambassador. His life was imperilled at various times, and his descriptions of how this unfolded is detailed and unstinting in laying blame. The preface by General Romeo Dallaire (a Canadian General who wrote about the Rwanda miseries in a book of great sadness entitled "Shake Hands with the Devil") tells all Canadians to read Nick's book. We owe a lot to people like Nick and Jenny who sacrifice their comfortable lives to serve in places like the Sudan and Rwanda. This book also places the many books I have read (and detailed in a much longer book report) about race relations in our continent in a new light. I wish everyone would read this. Diplomacy and sending aid and money are not working in South Sudan.

Questions to debate: should Britain, the U.S. and France be forced to stop selling arms to Africa?
Should all African countries be banned from selling arms to each other (shortly after he took power, Nelson Mandela staged a huge arms sale; selling to neighbouring countries).
Should the 'big' oil investors (in S Sudan they are Norway, the U.S. and Britain) be forced to back off and stop mixing politics with their business?
Instead of 'blanket' aid should we spend more money on: Planned Parenthood; War Child Canada; the UN initiative on AIDS reduction
Should medical personnel be held back? Clan dictators pay no heed to attempts at intervention by foreign personnel and many aid workers have been killed.

And BIGGER questions to debate:
Nuclear power is now emerging (after all) as the best, cleanest and most efficient power. Get rid of the oil consortiums ASAP.
GM foods have also been shown in significant studies to be healthy and would help stop starvation. We all need to educate ourselves more about this.
Could we and if so should we arrange to murder dictators? THEIR wars take the biggest toll on women and children.

To end on a more friendly footing, I have left a few really optimistic books for the end:
"Dancing with Elephants" by Jason Sawatsky … it shouldn't be so lovely … it's about an intellectual who is literally losing everything because of inherited Huntington's Disease (which is in his Mennonite family genes). He writes in a slightly crazy way (a sign of the illness?) but I think he can teach us all a lot!

Possibly our BEST book gifts from young friends Joc S and Matt H of S/V Nancy Blackett of Victoria … these are 1) a large volume entitled 'The Funniest Thing You Never Said' and 2) an inconsequential LOOKING book which has the insides cut away to reveal a tiny metal 'mickie' of Scotch - they've both proved to be of inestimable value during Captain-1st Mate arguments at sea!

At 2018-03-11 17:53 (utc) our position was 13°54.65'N 138°11.89'W

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