Announcing the Nautical Book Project

The Classical Unities are three principles of drama (derived , or perhaps misderived,  from Aristotle) which, according to certain Italian and French literary critics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, should govern the construction of any drama. They are:

–unity of action: a single plot line with no sub-plots

–unity of place: the events should be constrained to a single location

–unity of time: the events should be limited to the period of a single day

One of the reasons that nautically-oriented fiction can be so powerful, I think, is that by its nature it often establishes certain unities: the action typically occurs in a single place…albeit a moveable one, the ship…with a consistent cast of characters belonging to that place…and, although unity of time in the strict classical sense of all action occurring within a single day may be rare, another sort of unity of time is often established in that events occur over the course of a single voyage.

I’m launching an ongoing project to post reviews of worthwhile nautical fiction, recent and not-so-recent, well-known and not-so-well-known. All ChicagoBoyz and ChicagoGrrlz authors are invited to participate. Movies may also be included under this review category, as may some nonfiction books, especially personal memoirs.

Books/movies I’m planning to review myself, in the not-too-distant future, include: The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk…The Hornblower series, by C S Forester, and White Jacket, by Herman Melville.  Also To the Last Salute, by Captain Georg von Trapp (yes, that Captain von Trapp.)

Other books definitely deserving of reviews as part of this project include the nautical novels of Joseph Conrad, Melville’s Moby Dick and Billy Budd, and Nicholas Montsarrat’s The Cruel Sea.

Please post your suggestions for worthwhile books for this project in comments; also, for Chicago Boyz and Grrlz and anyone else who feels especially motivated, any books you would particularly like to sign up to review.  I see this as an ongoing project since the universe of books under this category is vast.


22 thoughts on “Announcing the Nautical Book Project”

  1. This is excellent: The Bounty

    I read through most of Hornblower books about ten years ago and loved them. I read somewhere they were loosely based on the life Admiral Nelson. Regardless, they were really well written, interesting, and made a fascinating window into 19th century life at sea.

  2. Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast.”

    College rich kid from Harvard with bad eyes gets a job on a family freighter traveling around the Horn to California to pick up some cow hides. I don’t know which topic I enjoyed more – sailing around the Horn or dealing with the Californios circa 1830.

    A great book. I gave my copy to my grandson to inspire him to a life of adventure.

  3. Not sure if this qualifies, but it’s still pretty good nonetheless

    Aside from surviving the expedition, completing the open boat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia was mind boggling in itself

    Another great survival story was:

    about a whaling ship in the Pacific. Sort of a true-to-life Moby Dick

  4. I will second (or third) Patrick O’Brian. As he matured, and the series continued, the writing got better and better. Some will say that his books drag along, but that is indeed the experience when at sea: nothing happens, it seems, for hours and days, but then suddenly there is an event or action.

    For other sea action, I will add Darwin “Voyage of the Beagle”.

  5. I guess ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ would qualify on all three Unities, no?

    And so would the non-nautical ‘The Breakfast Club’. Down to the “no sub-plots”…. or even “plots”, I suppose.

  6. For a gripping read I recommend “CAPE HORN One Man’s Dream, One Woman’s Nightmare.” A story of a husband and wife who set out from Los Angeles in a 42 foot ketch. It combines an intimate look into the interplay between two very different people as they battle to sail through the Roaring 40s and the Raging 50s to round Cape Horn.

    I read this before making the trip around the Horn by cruise ship. Seeing what they encountered up close, fostered even more admiration of their tale of survival among the frightening forces of nature found in those waters.

  7. This may well be stretching the intent of this discussion, but,
    since you mentioned Kerouac, I will toss this one out:

    Boots of Spanish Leather by Dylan (rendered admirably by Nanci Griffith)

    His poignant ode to a lover’s yearning across the lonesome ocean.

  8. I absolutely endorse Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin novels. I was addicted to the Hornblower series in younger years, but the Aubrey/Maturin novels are deeper and more complex. For extra nerd points, read N.A.M. Rodger’s The Wooden World as a nonfiction companion — they both make the same point about the skewed and unrealistic picture of the Georgian Royal Navy in film and other popular history, Rodger by historical research and O’Brien by illustration.

    Another enjoyable little series in John Biggins’ Austro-Hungarian naval series, starting with A Sailor of Austria:

    It can be read with von Trapp’s memoirs as a nonfiction companion.

  9. Cruel Sea, excellent book.

    In Which We Serve, excellent.

    Dearieme and I concur on those.

    Slocum, Sailing Around the World Alone.

  10. Treasure Island, Robert L. Stevenson

    Sea of Thunder, Evan Thomas. WWII, 1941-1945, the naval south-pacific.

  11. Robert Louis Stevenson was great to read growing up. I also agree with “In Which We Serve” and I’ll throw in “Lifeboat”, as well as “Abandon Ship”.
    The last good historical book I read about the sea was “Six Frigates” by Ian W. Toll. Though it is nonfiction, and tells several different stories, it would be great if somebody made a movie about at least one of the ships.

  12. A book I enjoyed when I was a kid was Lowell Thomas’s The Sea Devil, a nonfiction account of the WWI German sailing commerce raider Seeadler. Its captain, Felix von Luckner, was the sort of crazy misfit that manages to find a useful role in wartime, similar to T.E. Lawrence. Lowell Thomas had a knack for publicizing such people.

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