Holiday Book Recommendations 2019

Hi, I’m Christian Williams and it’s the
2019 holiday gift-giving season, and I recommend giving books–so this year let’s go over a few sailing novels. We’ve already treated probably the best
contemporary novelist of our time, Patrick O’Brien, and I dare not even
mention “Moby Dick,” the great piece of literature that confounds every attempt
to compete with it, or even my own book, my own new novel, “Rarotonga,” which
is just out a month ago. I’ll put those in the description and the links at the end
of this video. But, you know, something has changed in the books that we read about
sailing and the sea. They’re mostly nonfiction now, I think because the
adventures that we follow today in the news and on television are quite
different than they were at the heyday of the imaginative story, whereas everybody goes off adventuring now with a GoPro camera, people are quite literate, they
keep notes, in many cases they are sponsored, and the result is an almost
endless stream of true adventure stories. But the non-fiction books that we read
by the hundreds, leave something out, and that is the imaginative capacity and
capability of a novelist taking on the same subjects. And at the turn of the
century, nearly a hundred and twenty years ago, this was the stock and trade of
communication, and I have four to recommend. The first is Joseph Conrad’s “Typhoon.” This book is “Typhoon” and other tales, it also includes several other good short stories. But the story “Typhoon” has always
been a favorite of mine. It’s about Captain MacWhirr a rather stolid man,
unimaginative, who is the captain of a pretty beat-up freighter crossing the
China Sea with a cargo of 200 “Chinamen.” Yes, “coolies.” All four of these books were written about 1900, and they they have
the assumptions and attitudes of the time, which personally as a reader I
accept, as, you know–it’s their Geist, their spirit of their time, and we can
learn from it without imitating it . In any case, those “Chinamen” present quite a problem to a ship at the height of a typhoon and Conrad is very clever about
describing how this unimaginative captain pulls through. There’s a
terrifying scene in it, at least for me. They think they’ve gone through the
worst of the typhoon because the sun came out and the winds dropped down, and Captain MacWhirr turns to his mate and says, The the worst is yet to come. Of course, on the other side of the cyclone. “Typhoon,” by Joseph Conrad. Another classic which I was unfamiliar with until last year, of the period, is
Erskine Childers’ “The Riddle of the Sands, a Record of Secret Service.” For
some reason everybody read this book, had read this book, but me. “Vibrant,
impassioned, witty, intelligent and shamelessly prejudiced in the manner of
the day.” Well, they’re all like that. I wasn’t entirely persuaded by the spy
aspect of “The Riddle of the Sands” by Erskine Childers, what I liked was
something completely unfamiliar to me, which is that this story takes place in
a 30-foot boat with bilge keels –you know, so that it can sit upright when the tide
goes out–in an area of the world that our European friends probably are very
familiar with but I’m not, and that is the the tidal sands off the great
estuaries at about the intersection of Holland and Germany, just south of what used to be called Schleswig-Holstein I guess,
they’re these big rivers like the Elbe, they’re estuaries and they go into the North
Atlantic there and form vast sand banks that go out ten miles offshore, so that
you can anchor 10 miles offshore, off the Frisian Islands, and when the tide goes
out, as this book describes, for as far as the eye can see there are nothing but
sand banks. And you can navigate these channels if you know just
where they lay, which just might be important in wartime, or so Carruthers
and Davies, the heroic occupants of this this leaky 30-foot boat hope to discover
for their Secret Service end. Well, “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis
Stevenson is supposed to be a children’s book of course, and there are more
children among us than we thought if that’s true. Because I reread this last
year on a long car trip in which I was alone and was completely charmed once
again. You know, this is the introduction to the world by Robert Louis Stevenson
of Long John Silver and the stories told through the eyes of young Jim, and he
happens to come into possession of very important information about the treasure
map and here’s how here’s how he does it– by falling into an apple barrel.
“I got bodily into the apple barrel and found there was scarce an apple left but
sitting there in the dark what with the sound of the waters and
the rocking movement of the ship I had either fallen asleep or was at the
point of doing so when a heavy man sat down with rather a clash close by. The
barrel shook as he leaned his shoulders against it and I was just about to jump
up when the man began to speak. It was Silver’s voice, and before I had heard a
dozen words I would not have shown myself for all the world, but lay there
trembling and listening in the extreme of fear and curiosity, for from these
dozen words I understood that the lives of all the honest man aboard depended upon me alone.” Now, these guys knew how to tell a story.
“Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson. “Captains Courageous” by Rudyard Kipling, another book written about in about 1900 we’ve all heard of, but if you
haven’t reread it lately it will bring a tear to your eye. “Captains Courageous,” I don’t have the book with me, is as you probably recall the story of young
Harvey, who’s about 15, who falls off an ocean liner and is rescued by a
Gloucester fisherman skippered by one Disko Troop, one of the coolest guys in
the history of the sailing literature and and here is the introduction to
here’s the introduction to Harvey. “He was dressed in a cherry colored blazer,
knickerbockers, red stockings and bicycle shoes, with a red flannel cap at
the back of his head. After whistling between his teeth as he eyed the company of men aboard the steamship he said in a high, loud voice, “Say, it’s thick outside!
You can hear them fish boats squawking all around us. Say, wouldn’t it be great
if we ran one down!” Well, it’s after that that he falls overboard into the clutches and the rescue of one of those Gloucester fishers. “Captains Courageous”
is a wonderful book. It’s also a sensationally good movie, to the
highest standards, made by Victor Fleming, directed by Victor Fleming, with Spencer
Tracy as Manuel, and it contains — that is, “Captains Courageous” the movie–real
footage of Gloucester fishing schooners in action on the Grand Banks and especially of their their race home to
the Gloucester at the end of the story. Now, nonfiction books still dominate, and
I thought to bring along this year four that you might not have heard about, and
the first of these is a book I was introduced to
only five or six years ago by my friends in the Pacific Northwest called “The
Curve of Time” by M. Wiley Blanchet, or however she pronounces it. Written
in 1927. Blanchet is a woman who moved to Vancouver, and they had a
25-foot motorboat and her husband went off on it one day and never came back. He
drowned. Nobody knows why. They had five children. Instead of selling the boat, which I think most people would do out of grief, she took her five children for
the next 15 years, six of them on this boat, and lived for months at a time in
summers exploring British Columbia in the 1920s. She’s a wonderful writer,
evocative, not sentimental, and the things she puts her five children through — and
they do it without complaint — are extraordinary. They’re cold all the
time, their anchor often slips, they go off hiking to visit hermits, they discuss
with some alacrity and period sensibilities the Indians of the time. British Columbia’s changed entirely since then and this book is a wonderful
evocation of what it was like before civilization really got its grip. “The
Curve of Time” by M. Wiley Blanchet. Of nonfiction books, curiously, “Two Years
before the Mast,” very well-known, but for some reason A half-dozen of my friends
reported reading this again within the last couple of years. It’s by Richard
Henry Dana, Jr. and as you recall he was a college student at Harvard at the time and I think he was diagnosed with bad
eyesight and they said you need a sea voyage young man. So he signed on before
the mast on a ship that collected skins off of the California coast. And it’s
true that the people I’m citing who’ve read it live in Southern California — why,
we don’t know what work is today. These guys are unloading seal skins waist-deep
all winter working 12 to 15 hours a day and as an insight into what it was like to go
on a sailing ship as your summer job back then, nothing beats “Two Years before the Mast.” And it’s quite well written, too. Rockwell Kent is a famous artist, as you know an illustrator, and this is a book of his
called “N by E,” and it’s the story of his yachting voyage to
Greenland. “In this book is told the story of an actual voyage to Greenland in
a small boat, of a shipwreck there of what if anything happened afterwards,”
some of which may or may not have happened not to knock Rockwell Kent’s
imagination but this is supposed to be a first-hand account. I cite it because if you can find an edition with his prints in it, and I
think you can online, it’s extraordinary. You know, when it comes to
illustration you can’t beat Rockwell Kent. “At 2:30 in the afternoon we left
our anchorage. We didn’t sail out, we were towed. Tired of waiting for a wind, ashamed of inaction, embarrassed by abortive leave-takings, we wanted only to get out of it and off to sea.” Rockwell Kent, the
pictures alone are worth the price of
admission. “N by E.” Well, here’s a book I’ll bet you haven’t heard of, which has affected me greatly. It’s called “The
Boy, Me and the Cat” by Henry M Plummer. Well — my father gave me this it says here in February 1981 — “The Cruise of the Mascot, 1912 to 1913.” The Mascot is a small,
gaff rigged catboat that father and son, Henry M. Plummer and Henry M. Plummer, Jr., sail down the intercoastal waterway to Florida. It’s written in a delightfully
naive style. I think this book was lost for a long time until it was
recognized for what it is, which is a really good account with a cute, as it
were, title, “The Boy, Me and the Cat,” the cat comes to — well, I won’t tell you what
happens to the cat, Scotty I think is his name. What I will tell you is why I can
hardly read this book now without extreme emotion. Here’s the dedication,
written to a 13- or 14-year-old boy. “To my companion Henry M plumber Jr.,
who with unfailing patience bore with my fretful exactions and was ever
ready to lend a willing hand, who joined me in love for Scotty, and in grief at
her death –that’s the cat — to this boy, who is my joy and my pride…. Well. . All right, let’s try that again
without the emotion. “…To this boy… to this boy , who is my joy and my
pride, this log is lovingly dedicated by his father.” Very nice. “The Boy, Me and the Cat.” But… some years later, when the book was
rediscovered by publishers, the New Bedford, Massachusetts [Mercury] of May 9th, 1928, reported the following: “Mr. Plummer’s son, Henry M. Plummer, Jr., who appears in this book, was an aviator in the Great World War, killed in action. When you read the book you
get to know these guys. On a lighter note, let’s move our perspective worldwide, and from this very bunk here in this very harbor in Southern
California. And that we will do — and this is a great gift for anyone who keeps
talking about sailing around the world — Jimmy Cornell’s “World Cruising Routes.”
This book this book should not be allowed to exist because it tells you how to
sail around the world and to anywhere you want to, with directions and even
waypoints in the newest edition, and I think that I think that if you give this
to somebody, his wife’s going to say “George, why are you reading that book
about world cruising routes by Jimmy Cornell?” Here’s one — “Route PS 106 Queensland to
Papua New Guinea. There are two main routes crossing the Coral Sea from
Queensland to Papua New Guinea one that goes direct to the capital port … no no no,
we oughtn’t to read that too often wanderlust gets going and I think that
now we’ve finished this assay of Christmas books, I shall go home and instead of sailing around the world, take a nap. Thanks for listening.

18 thoughts on “Holiday Book Recommendations 2019

  1. Mr. Williams, terrific reviews, thank you! as it happens, I just read Treasure Island again recently, at 63, and it was fantastic. Not so much for sentimental reasons, but for the youthful emotions I could recall… adventure, excitement and sheer terror 🙂 And I totally agree with you about World Cruising Routes! Its the sailing book I most often pull out – for voyage daydreams.

  2. The slightly derogatory tone towards everyone bringing a go pro is not unwarranted.

    There are quite a few who falsely create drama through editing and cinematography. Frankly, I appreciate both the mundane and the controlled or mitigated chaos of your escapades. They seem much more legitimate

  3. Hey mr. Williams,, love yor channel. While not great literature some of the fiction books written by alistair mclean, especially the first novel was really good . About the convoys to mansk in wwll. He was a limey sailor in the war. I read it when i was fourteen.

  4. Nothing better than getting lost in a good book. Here's one to add – James A Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific".

  5. I'm inspired to chase a few of those down, thanks, Christian. As Claud Worth, the great gentleman sailor and one-time owner of a gaff rigger called Tern II, said, "One good tern deserves another". So here is a recommendation for you if you haven't already etc: South Sea Vagabonds by Johnny Wray.

  6. Mr. Christian Williams, I'm supposing that I may have not thank you enough for all your updates over the years! I am however thanking you now, and not because of all my thumbs up but to the contrary. I not only believe you to be an amazing man, but most genuinely interesting so to say the least. I am just a simple man who could only watch and learn as you sailed to even uplift your daughter in noncritical ways. I am not a writer nor have I set as much to pen and paper as you may tell, but I am here today to say thank you for being here if only for one day at a time. The cast has cooled and the die is broken, to a world that will never learn what you have forgotten. Please find some small comfort in knowing you are not alone, and that these really are the best of times throughout mans greed. The lord will take care of the rest.

  7. I liked Conrad a lot. He was an amazing writer, especially when you consider English was his second language. Another writer at the same time was Somerset Maugham. He has a great collection of short stories, many of which are nautical related and take place in the Pacific or Indian ocean. Look for his two-volume collection under the title East and West.
    I have about 30 nautical themed books at home. My favorite is probably the first one I ever bought decades ago. The book is an anthology, Great Adventures in Small Boats by David Klein and Mary Louise King. Alan Villiers has a great anthology too, Of Ships and Men. The way of a Ship by Villiers is a wonderful description of the sailing ship and how they sailed.
    The Silent World by Jaques Cousteau is very well written. Three men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome is still funny 100 years later.

  8. The way you speak of books and reading make me want to pick up a book and read. The only story book I have ever read is call of the wild suggested to me by a teacher that took my under his wing at break times to help me get an education, you remind me of him.

  9. I've read several books from your last recommendation video and look forward to reading some of these as well. Thank you!

  10. So Christian, I have to ask… Are you done adventuring on Thelonious II ? Or are you going to do more sailing videos.. That's what brought me to your channel 🙂

  11. One I just picked up: Sea of Gray by Tom Chaffin. The around the World Odyssey of the confederate raider Shenandoah. Non fiction account of the CSS Shenandoah a converted English steamer that became a commerce raider.

  12. Beautiful historical sayings

    "I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it's because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it's because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came".

    [Remarks at the Dinner for the America's Cup Crews, September 14 1962]
    John F. Kennedy

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