“The sea swept over the Arctic’s stern in a maelstrom of dark water and white foam. It rumbled and roared on either side of the ship as her bow eased skyward. There was no quick incline to an almost vertical position, no massive lunge to find the bottom. She slowly backed into the waves at a twenty-five-degree angle, assuming grace and beauty even in her last moments.”
But apart from those last moments, nothing about the Arctic’s sinking is graceful or beautiful. It showcased cruelty and selfishness in spades and the limitations of the code of honor that only a few people bothered to follow in the events leading to the disaster. While David W. Shaw’s The Sea Shall Embrace Them has flaws, with writing occasionally clunky and facts occasionally unclear, the horror of the sinking of the ship and the mad scramble to escape it is wrenching to read and hard to forget. Continue reading
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a book that defies summarizing. It’s a labyrinth of travel, history, families, horror, and legacies. It goes layers deep, with every generation working its way through a different part of the maze. Every now and again a shaft to the past opens to show the centuries past and how their shadow may be more than just a shadow. It can be described, but begs to be experienced.
But if you need a description, this quote from the book should suffice:
“To make it short and shocking, I’m on a quest of sorts, a historian’s hunt for Dracula – not Count Dracula of the romantic stage, but a real Dracula – Drakulya – Vlad III, a fifteenth-century tyrant who lived in Transylvania and Wallachia and dedicated himself to keeping the Ottoman Empire out of his lands as long as possible.” Continue reading
My bed is calling to me like a siren, but before I go, the tallies of the Readathon this time around:
Books read: 5
Books completed: 3 (1 in progress at the start of the readathon, 1 reread, 1 never-before-read)
-1 poetry collection
-1 YA/middle grade
-1 historical/horror/literary/thriller (whichever you’d want to call The Historian)
Pages read: 1,122
I will hopefully be back later in the week with more detailed thoughts on The Sea Shall Embrace Them and The Historian, assuming real life hasn’t buried me alive first. But for now- to sleep, perchance to dream.
I have a decidedly morbid interest in maritime disasters. I don’t know where it comes from, particularly since I tend to flinch away from them after examining them for long stretches. There’s something viscerally horrifying about the power of the ocean, and perhaps it’s this terror that makes it so fascinating. There’s an awesomeness to it. Stories of the things that happen at sea almost always have to be considered in that context, and it was with that in mind that I picked up The Sea Shall Embrace Them, by David W. Shaw, as my third readathon book.
The sea’s awesomeness is an undeniable backdrop in the disaster of the steamship Arctic, but what makes the disaster of its collision with the Vesta so agonizing to read is how much of the loss of life might have been prevented if meeting scheduling hadn’t been such a pressure that the captain opted to churn at top speed through a thick fog by Newfoundland. If regulations had been more of a concern at the time. If the captain of the Arctic, Luce, had made the choice to try to aid the ship he rammed in defiance of the bad position his ship was in for honor’s sake (the Vesta, though it ironically looked done for at time of collision, ended up making it back to land and might have been able to help the passengers and crew of the Arctic had turned back. But with the Arctic itself floundering, it’s very hard to blame Luce for trying to keep his ship afloat as long as possible). If the crew had had more courage, enough to let the passengers off instead of opting to rush the lifeboats and save themselves.
All I can say is that the murder mystery I have planned to follow will come as an uplifting and sunny change.
My second readathon selection is a book that I read over and over again when I was a child- I wanted to see if it still had the magic and I wanted something that would be a relatively quick read. Given hockey playoffs, it did not turn out to be as quick as I was hoping, but the game ended well, and the book still has its power.
I think The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke, is the first book I read where I became acutely aware of the power of words as devices to move, to stir, to paint as vivid a picture as a photograph. I read it at some point between the ages of 12 and 13, probably closer to age 12, and the power that it had over me was a strange one. I was moving past the age of children’s books, but this one has a captivating power beyond most. And when I reread it for the readathon, there is so much that still resonates (and a lot that made me laugh, this book has some amazing lines and exchanges). As an older sister, Prosper’s situation as he tries desperately to care for his little brother hits even closer now that I know a little more about what is needed to watch over of people. Victor still makes me smile, and Ida Spavento remains a role model for me in terms of her generousness with the children and in the hints that she’s overcome and forgiven a painful past. The book captures the magic and the beauty of a new place, one of possibility and history, where legends can- just maybe- come to life.
Greetings, ladies and gentlemen! If any of you follow me on Twitter, you will know I have signed up for Dewey’s 24 Readathon, a day devoted to book-reading. How faithfully I’m going to be able to follow this is open to question, given how much laundry I have to do, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Given how much of my life is spent reading anyway, I’m sure the hours I’m going to lose are already more than made up for.
Anyhow, I have finished my first book of the reading madness just at the end of the sixth hour and it was glorious. If you love history, reading, academia, legend, the preservation of history, travelogues, and Dracula, read “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova. It is magnificent- a twisty, wild book that juggles a labyrinth of storylines and showcases the wonder and the awe that knowledge, literature, and history have. It’s a testament to the power of the past, the power of stories, the hold of culture, the joy of travel. It reaches back into the centuries and shakes into the layers and layers of years covered in the story. The horror sprinkled throughout adds bits and pieces of terror, but what kept me turning the page was the searching for the bits of documents, the books, the legends, that every generation featured in the book undertakes in their search for the source of the Dracula story- Vlad Tepes. It’s a wild, almost ridiculous undertaking and premise, and it’s all the more magnificent for it. I cannot wait to give it a proper review, one that doesn’t involve my flailing.
Now to the other books in this pile:
When I was a middle/high school student, I had a flair for finding meanings in various literary constructions in the poems and short stories that we read. For most of these, I was spitballing because no one else in the class would raise their hand, but it was still fun to poke around at the possibilities. This stayed through college; I once jokingly told a friend that I could come up with all sorts of “deep” interpretations of a webcomic we both followed and did so. A joke cult became a comment on religion’s masquerade and a running gag of a purse was transformed to a comment on the menace of consumerism. It was a ton of fun and made up entirely on the spot.
I had the tables turned on me when one of my poems came up for critique in a poetry class. A classmate expounded on a complex interpretation related to art and the perils of taking its pursuit too far. It was incredibly insightful- and had nothing to do with anything I’d had in mind for the poem. Continue reading