Great American Sailing Stories Edited by Tom McCarthy; Lyons Press (296 pages, $16)
Why does the Age of Sail seem so romantic? Perhaps it's the talk of piracy, or the daunting nature of whaling, or simply the fact that ships could go only where—and when—the wind allowed them. This selection of 18 fiction and nonfiction stories fulfills the escapist's yearning to visit a bygone era, but also fulfills a reader's fascination with writing styles.
There is the straightforward solemnity of a first-person account of a mutiny and a chapter from Joshua Slocum's quietly compelling account of his solo circumnavigation on his sailboat, the Spray. Then there are stories from Jack London, Herman Melville and Rudyard Kipling where their mastery of language—each in their distinctive way—illustrates why their works are classics. Here's Melville on the loss of a man overboard: "Then, too, at sea—to use a homely but expressive phrase—you miss a man so much. A dozen men are shut up together in a little bark upon the wide, wide sea, and for months and months see no forms and hear no voices but their own, and one is taken suddenly from then, and they miss him at every turn."
Some of these stories may compel you to seek out the larger works from which they were drawn. Others are enough for a quiet night's reading wrapped in a blanket and sipping some grog, and fighting the impulse to kiss the ground.