Stories of the Sea|
Diana Secker Tesdell, editor
Everyman's Pocket Classics, 405pp, $15
According to the official Amazon.com review, "Everyman's Library was founded in 1906 by London publisher Joseph Malaby Dent with the purpose of publishing literature that would appeal to every kind of reader: the worker, the student, the cultured man, the child, the man and the woman." Everyman's Library editions feature original introductions, up-to-date bibliographies, and complete chronologies of the authors' lives and works.
In 1991 Everyman's Library was relaunched by a small independent company with the support of Random House in the UK and Alfred A. Knopf in the US. The revived library featured a fine, easy-to-read typographic design...and substantial new introductions and chronologies by leading scholars and writers."
I remember earlier volumes of this noble effort from high school and college (no decades revealed) having been assigned to read many, but I had long assumed that the quality publishing effort had gone the way of all things of quality...however, not so, as the above brief history recounts. And one of the lovely surprises of this Christmas from thoughtful a family member, was the Everyman's Library volume, Stories of the Sea.
Rarely has a book provided me with as much reading pleasure as has this one. The collection of 18 short stories from some of the greatest authors who have ever paid literary homage to the world's oceans and man's business upon them includes the greatest of the greats; Joseph Conrad's marvelous Youth, ("You fellows know there are those voyages that seem ordered for the illustration of life, that might stand for a symbol of existence."); Stephen Crane's Open Boat, ("By the very last star of truth, it is easier to steal eggs from under a hen than it was to change seats in a dinghy."); as well as Hemingway, Melville, and Jack London.
As I began to read these classic stories, with which I thought I was thoroughly familiar, I expected a sleepy nostalgic appreciation. I had read some of them many times, for academic courses as well as for pleasure. However, the contrary was true and I learned a humble lesson: no matter how many times you read the best of the best, you will be bowled over anew.
The masters are just that, masters of word choices for setting, atmosphere, description, action and concision, in general. In fact, I think I enjoyed this reading experience even more than others I remember, especially for these three classics and I have resolved to re-read them more frequently.
Aside from the big names known for their saltiness, there are also some delightful surprises among the choices for this anthology. Ray Bradbury's story, The Fog Horn, an examination of the effect of isolation on imagination will chill you. Doris Lessing's Through the Tunnel will ruefully remind you of your dare devil youth (but only if you're past it). Kurt Vonnegut's The Cruise of the Jolly Roger offers another example of Mr. V's spooky and ambivalent affair with Cape Cod.
Perhaps the most elegant surprise was Mark Helprin's Sail Shining in White. About a (figuratively) washed up retiree on the west coast of Florida, living on his boat... "who smells the air and thinks to himself that the hardly moving air, like the retirees, like him, was going nowhere and would never go anywhere again, having finally come to the last stop and hit the stunning wall where nothings happens." And then the story begins.
Beautifully produced, this modern version of Everyman's Pocket Classic is printed on acid free cream-wove paper with a full-sewn, full cloth binding and possesses a charmingly anachronistic bound in silk ribbon book mark. It is a pleasure to look at and hold as well as to read.