Someone asked this question not long ago in a random poll on a chat forum I frequent, and my answer was emphatically “the sea”. I grew up in sight of it, I start to feel antsy if I can’t hear, see or smell it for more than a couple of weeks, and I really think I would lose something important from my life if I were to settle somewhere far away from it. A lake is just not the same - fresh water smells different, and so do saltwater lakes. So here is some List Love, featuring the sea in a pivotal role:
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Novel. While the eponymous white whale is the star of the show, the book actually is about much more than just Captain Ahab’s obsession. The descriptions of life at sea on a whaling ship were what I most enjoyed about it.
- In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The true story that inspired Moby Dick. An enraged bull sperm whale sinks a whaleship in the Pacific and the crew must try to get to land in the whaleboats. Not a pretty story but an amazing survival tale.
- Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Trapped in a hostile environment, surrounded by sea and ice, this is another amazing survival story in which the sea plays an important part.
- The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson. Life in, on the surface and on the shores of the sea plays an integral part in this interesting and well-written account of the life cycle of the Maine lobster and the lives of the fishermen who trap them and the scientists who study them.
- The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby. While I could have done without the technical aspects of life on a tall ship, the names of sails and rigging, ropes and other equipment in which Newby indulged in describing, there is no denying that the life at sea that he describes has a great deal of nostalgia and charm in it.
- A Night to Remember by Walter Lord. The story of the night the Titanic sank. A marvellous book I read recently, it is still, more than 50 years after it was first published, considered to be one of the best Titanic books.
- Typhoon by Joseph Conrad. A terrifying tale of a ship caught in a storm.
- The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. Besides being a cracking espionage thriller, it is also full of the joys of sailing and being on the water.
- The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. A tense and sometimes claustrophobic tale of a cat-and-mouse game played between a Soviet submarine captain and the navies of the Soviet Union and NATO.
- The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw. The account of the captain of a fishing boat of life at sea and of one particular fishing tour.
If you crave more titles
- Sea Crow Island by Astrid Lindgren.
Sea books on my reading list:
Life of Pi by Yann Martell.
Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin.
Percival Keene by Frederick Marryat.
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum.
Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz.
The Sinbad Voyage by Tim Severin.
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.