|"Whaling Voyage Round the World" c. 1848 by Benjamin Russell and Caleb P. Purrington|
My final reason for choosing whale tales is that whaling is in my family history. My husband’s great-grandfather left the Azores at the age of fourteen upon a whaler and eventually settled in
in the late 1860s. In order to give my kids a better understanding of their ancestry, I thought it would be helpful to read some literature about it. Erie, Pennsylvania
So, the universe was giving me a nudge, and the notion to read about whales emerged from the depths of my subconscious as clear as a tail fin or a spout from a blowhole. Here are my “Tales of the Whales” reading selections:
1. Galore by Michael Crummey. Although Galore is a couple of years old now, it will serve as my New Release/Contemporary read this month. The book flap was beguiling – I guess I was “hooked” (har, har). The description offered everything I love in a book – regional flavor (it’s set in
), a mysterious stranger, superstitious lore and magic, as well as an epic quality spanning generations. But we know how cunning those book flaps are, don’t we? Let’s see if Galore lives up to the publisher’s “bait” (so sorry for that – couldn’t resist). Newfoundland
2. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I suppose it wasn’t too hard to see The Great White Whale looming in the horizon. When I was in middle school, I participated in a reenactment of Moby Dick for an academic competition. My fellow students and I tried to read the book, but no one could get through it in time for our contest. Per our teacher’s suggestion, we leaned on Cliff Notes. I feel this was a missed opportunity, and now I’m going to take a second stab – or should I say “harpoon” – at it.
3. Grayson by Lynne Cox. This is my non-fiction title for this month. It is a memoir by Cox recounting a day when she was seventeen years old and swimming a couple hundred yards off shore. During her training swim, she encountered a baby gray whale. The whale followed her for about a mile. Already fatigued, she was ready to go to shore, but she didn’t want the calf to follow her and become beached. When I was seventeen I wouldn’t have had the sense to know what to do in this situation (but then again, I wouldn’t have had the motivation or courage to swim miles in the ocean, either). I’m eager to see how Cox managed.
4. Nightbirds on
Nantucket by Joan Aiken. Aiken is the author of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a favorite (if not a classic) of modern children’s literature. The protagonist of Nightbirds is Dido Twite, an English girl, who is found adrift in the ocean by a New England whaling ship. The ship’s captain, Captain Casket, has a young daughter on board named Dutiful Penitence, who is fearful of the ocean. The captain asks Dido to help Dutiful Penitence overcome her fears. Eventually, the girls are left at a farmhouse with Aunt Tribulation, a dour and nasty woman. The story also features a pink whale, but I have no idea how it fits in. I can’t wait to see the trouble Dido gives Aunt Tribulation or whaddup with that pink whale.
5. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is my writer’s choice for May. LeGuin is best known for her science fiction and fantasy novels, but this book sprang from a writing workshop she taught in the mid-90s. The first chapter is called “The Sound of Your Writing: Being Gorgeous”. Gorgeous-sounding writing is my personal “white whale”. I have good ideas and can develop plots and characters fairly easily, but my lexical arrhythmia belies my “serious writer” status. In my opinion, sound is what separates the true literary craftsman from the story-telling dilettante. If Le Guin can help develop my writer’s ear even a little, this will be well worth the read.
NOTE: I feel it’s important to say that although whaling was a significant chapter in American history, I do not condone the killing of whales. What’s sad is that these highly intelligent creatures are capable of great compassion towards humankind even though we are collectively responsible for the depletion of their species. Read here about whales who have rescued people in peril at sea. It’s not all Ahab and Moby Dick.