Friday, May 09, 2014

Demon of the Waters: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Whaleship Globe by Gregory Gibson

Apropos of the splendid Demon of the Waters, three topics in one blog post today: (1) Blogs (2) Kindles and (3) Literary Travel Memoirs. 

(1) Blogs: Oh, so many (or few?) good ones. Seems most bloggers never quite hit a stride; they sprint into the blogoshere, usually promoting something such as their new book, then poop out. (Or sink to posting pix of their food on FB.) As for excellent bloggers posting at a steady stride: one of my favorites was Seth Roberts-- alas, he passed away, very young and suddenly (check out the archives, highly recommended). Another blog I love, still going strong, rubber boots and all, is Katherine Dunn's Apifera Farm. (Don't be deceived by the simplicity of her posts about elderly farm animals and rescued cats; she's an artist and a poet of the highest order.) Seth Godin's is my daily mind-vitamin. Marginal Revolution. The Archdruid Report (though as I write, the felicitously hypergraphic Mr. Greer has awarded himself a vacation.) Jim Kunstler, whose blog invariably retails ye same olde, same olde doom 'n gloom, but somehow, every Monday, makes it freshly hilarious. (Did I mention, I have a very Mexican sense of humor.)  Early Retirement Extreme (extremely Krishnamurtian). On the literary front, I keep up with my novelist amiga Leslie Pietrzyk via her Work-in-Progress, my poet and translator amigo Zack Rogow's Advice for Writers-- and many others. And I get my Viking fix with Nancy Marie Brown's God of Wednesday, aura and face reading adventures with Rose Rosetree (seriously, these are skills anyone can learn and the concepts are especially useful for fiction writers-- a blog post expanding on that anon), and rare book fix with Gregory Gibson's Bookman's Log

Thank you, all. Except those of you who have sunk to posting pictures of your food on FB. You get a raspberry. For that matter, FB gets a raspberry.

(No, I cannot abide Slate, nor that race-the-bottom conglomeration otherwise known as Huffington Post, and every time I read the New York Times, which I do once in a while, when distracted, as when stepping into a pothole, I am reminded why I prefer my personal menu of blogs. No, I do not read other newspapers. But I do maintain a subscription to Mexico City's Reforma because others in my household, for reasons known only to themselves, feel compelled to remain informed about that genre of disturbing but reliably repetitive earthly events I call "bus crashes," and I am happy to be able to bundle up and donate the leftovers --I mean of the newspapers-- to our local dog rescue charity. If you happen to write for Slate, Huffington Post or the NYT, no offense intended; I am sure I just haven't been fortunate enough to come across your pieces. I find bus crashes so distracting, you see.)

Now a blog post can be a "big baggy monster," to steal a quote about the novel, but 'nuf meandering.
The cover for the Kindle.
Sorry, Madam Mayo votes for
the hardcover's dustjacket (see above).
This Kindle cover looks very
generic, which this splendid book
most assuredly is not.

(2) Kindles. So it was in Gregory Gibson's Bookman's Log I came across a post with the very unassuming title of "Kindling." Turns out that, through his agent (why, sir? it's not rocket science) he has issued a Kindle edition of his 2002 Demon of the Waters: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Whaleship Globe. So unassuming was his post that, in fact (did I miss it?), he didn't even provide a link to buy the book. (Herewith, dear readers.) 

Long story boiled down to a sentence: Demon of the Waters makes my top 10 books read for 2014.  (How do I know, with my voracious reading habits, that between now and December I won't find others to push it down the list to, say, #11? Why, it's that good.)

Of special interest to me was the narrative structure which, a la Melville, included chapters on shipbuilding and the whaling industry's trade, tools, and so on. Whaling was, as Gibson puts it, "Big Oil" of its day. I can see why many readers would object to all that exposition (many reviewers do), and at the beginning especially, Demon of the Waters does seem meandering and overly detailed, but I say it works because so much of this hellish tragedy would be incomprehensible without it. For those of us in the early 21st century, whaling is an exotic, horrifically brutal, and culturally rich tradition that, though we might fancy we know it when we stroll through Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, take home a print of a whaleship or, say, resin replica of an antique whale bone carving, is really as foreign to us as we, with our cars and email and microwavable whatnots, would be to those whalers.

Charles Melville Scammon,
whaler and naturalist
(Personal sidenote: I especially delighted in the connection with my own Miraculous Air, a travel memoir about Baja California, which includes two chapters about Charles Melville Scammon, a San Francisco-based whaler of the grays, and author of a very rare book indeed-- most copies, still in the warehouse, burned after the San Francisco earthquake-- The Marine Mammals of the North-western Coast of North America Together with an Account of the American Whale-fishery. Many of the whaling scenes Scammon recounts were similar to those 20-30 years earlier in Demon of the Waters, and no doubt, many of his crew could have been kinsmen from the same little New England towns as those of the Globe.)

(3) Literary Travel Memoirs. Though the title and most of the content put Demon of the Waters squarely in the category of history, I consider it a literary travel memoir, for it is not only a memoir of a rare book dealer's encounter with a manuscript uncovered in Indiana (I'd stretch that to the literary travel memoir category in itself), but at the end, of the author's journey to Mili Atoll. I won't give away the ending, but I will say it unpacks multiple surprises and has that rare symphonic quality of the very finest of novels. 


Madam Mayo
>Top 10 books Read 2013