Ask BigJules: Recreational reading
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Randy S. Veronesi, a 52 year old Ex US Navy vet now living in Sydney, emailed:
Many thanks for your wonderful works. I’m an avid fan of the age of sail and the career of Kydd & Renzi has given me many hours of pure enjoyment. I re-read the series every time a new book comes out. I even own all the your books in audio to listen to on my phone. You are number one in my list of favorite authors still writing today along with Dewey Lambdin, W E B Griffin, Allan Mallinson, Ian Gale, John Wilcox, Peter Smalley, Seth Hunter, James L. Nelson and Sean Thomas Russell. I provide this list to ask: what favorite authors do you read for pleasure?
Thanks for the question, Randy – but as much as I’d love to give a long list of all the authors on my bedside table I have to say that these days nearly all my reading is non-fiction and work-related, that is, some aspect of the great age of fighting sail. Not that I’m complaining, so many wonderful titles are coming out each month – and I try to share as many of these as I can in BookPicks.
When I do get some down time, so to speak, I particularly enjoy memoirs of merchant mariners who served before the time of the ‘box-boats’. In their days, ere the shipping revolution brought about by containerisation, cargo handling was a very labour intensive – and skilled – business. Also, because cargo needed to be hoisted out, load by load, a ship could be weeks in port (modern container ships turn around in hours only). This meant that much of the life of these pre-boat box sailors would be familiar to Kydd. With time to kill, the crew went on the rantan ashore in foreign ports, often returning somewhat the worse for wear.
It was still the age of natural fibre so there was a need for skilled splicing and old seamanship. Modern ships have polypropylene or wire ropes that are never spliced but metal moulded together.
And before the era of satellite communications, once in Neptune’s realm only the radio operator knew what was going on beyond the world of their ship. It made for a close-knit community.
Under a Yellow Sky is a colourful memoir from Simon Hall who went to sea at a time when the British fleet was still one of the greatest in the world and the Red Ensign a common sight in almost every large port. He writes of the shipboard camaraderie and wild jaunts ashore in exotic places. As he tramped around the backwaters of the world he discovered the magic of the sea and encountered people from across the whole spectrum of human behaviour. Hall’s Scotland-based publisher, Whittles, has brought out a number of such books that I commend for evoking a maritime world now gone.
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Reading numerous naval novels of the Napoleonic era, one thing keeps popping to my mind: How did a boatswain and his mates survive? They must have been hated, being enforcers of discipline with the cane and rope, carrying out drastic forms of punishment. Caught between officers and common sailors, neither fish nor fowl, probably the most despied men on the ship, how did they keep from being mauled or stabbed while abed, or worse, tossed overboard?
Thanks for the question, Kenneth – I’ll answer it in a future ASK BIGJULES post on punishment at sea
Randy’s reading list is almost like mine, but he left out C. S. Forester, Michael Aye, Alexander Kent, G.S. Beard and Jay Worrell.
You just cannot do “Age Of Sail” and leave out Horatio Hornblower!!