Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

200 Steps

Do I believe in God? Maybe that's too heady a question to tackle the morning after St. Patrick's Day.

Do I believe in a subconscious drive that manifests itself in my actions and choices in often surprising and apparently mysterious ways? I'm not sure, but let me explain why I'm posing the question.

On the recommendation of a friend about a month ago, I picked up the book "In the Heart of the Sea," by Nathaniel Philbrick. The book is the true story of the sailors on the whaling ship Essex, and Philbrick does an amazing job in not only narrating their harrowing tale of survival, but in delivering a vivid account of Nantucket whaling culture in the early 19th century.

140 pages into the book, as the men of Essex endeavor to survive after the loss of their ship, there is a mention of Pitcairn Island, "an island whose history was inextricably linked with Nantucket. . . [i]n 1808, a sealing captain from Nantucket . . . discovered the answer to a nineteen-year-old mystery: what had happened to Fletcher Christian and the Bounty."

The mention is a fleeting one, an aside which serves to place the location of the sailors not only geographically, but historically as well. One of Philbrick's most well-executed literary maneuvers is his depiction of the sea as a vast historical entity as well as a vast physical entity, such that when ships and men cross historically, it is as notable as when ships encounter each other on the expanses of the Pacific.

This is how I've felt over the past three books I have read. My literary journeys have taken me from Nantucket, to the South Pacific, to Savannah, Georgia, to the Caribbean. And these have not seemed so much stops as they have been fluid portions of the same trip, as somehow, there have been unifying elements and references in each book.

After I read "In the Heart of the Sea," I picked up several books at the Holly Hill Book Repository in Greenwich. The first one I read was "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," a book which I've always been meaning to read, but which I just got around to now.

And to my surprise, on page 36 of "Midnight," after a brief discussion of a Savannahian poet's love of ships, the following passage floated across my eyes.

"It seemed to me that Savannah was in some respects as remote as Pitcairn Island, that tiny rock in the middle of the Pacific where the descendants of the mutineers of the H.M.S. Bounty had lived in inbred isolation since the eighteenth century."

Immediately, I thought of the lines from "In the Heart of the Sea," and indeed, it seemed to me that the best part of "Midnight" was the first half of the book, in which various characters in Savannah, Georgia enter and depart the narrator's life like ships passing in the water, each ship with its unique quirks and traits.

Next, I picked up "Love in the Time of Cholera," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another book I have never gotten around to reading, even though I enjoyed "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Chronicle of a Death Foretold."

Almost as soon as I began reading, I reached a passage that reminded me of "Midnight."

In "Midnight," Jim Williams is an antique dealer and Savannah aristocrat. After establishing himself as "nouveau riche" ("it's the riche that counts," he says), Williams begins a Savannah tradition, a meticulously and elaborately planned black-tie Christmas party which "soon became a permanent fixture on Savannah's social calendar."

On page 33 of "Love in the Time of Cholera," Dr. Urbina and his wife Fermina Daza depart tardy for a party hosted by "Aminta Dechamps, Dr. Lacides Olivella's wife, and her seven equally diligent daughters, [who] had arranged every detail so that the silver anniversary luncheon would be the social event of the year."

Perhaps this isn't an exact parallel, but somehow, the placement within the framework of the story makes them curiously resonant.

I almost feel compelled now to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's first book - "The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor." But I don't think I will. Rather than turn my journey full circle, I think I would rather keep letting my random choices flow together in unpredictable ways. Am I choosing these books for a strange subconscious reason? Or perhaps I am reading less now than before, and I'm seizing on these unifying threads, remote and bizarre as they are, as a way to connect my rather isolated literary selections.

Are my three books like the three lifeboats that the sailors of the Essex find themselves in after their ship sinks, bobbing almost helplessly in the water, struggling to maintain contact and visibility with the others?

I also feel compelled now to take a trip up to Nantucket this June, as several elements seem to be conspiring to drive me there. The aforementioned Philbrick book is one, but aside from that, I need to take a trip before starting law school. I want to go up to Yarmouth Port to see the Edward Gorey House. I want to see some Cape Cod League Baseball games. I want to spend a couple lazy days at a Bed and Breakfast, with nothing planned for the day aside from a walk on the beach or hike down a nature trail in the morning and some browsing of a used book sale in the afternoon.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a LOT of book sales in the area over the summer. There are sales in Nantucket, West Falmouth and Kingston all the same weekend. And I'm sure more will crop up as the season heats up. I live in MA. But I also publish information about used book sales across the US and Canada. See my web site at Thanks, Helen Oram

9:38 AM  

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