If you are not yet acquainted with the magazine called Bookmarks you’re in for a real treat. Of course you have to be a discerning reader and a far-ranging one at that but I assume my vast audience is nothing less. Bookmarks, a deceptively spare bimonthly was first published in 2002, the brain child of an avid reader and son of a librarian. Today it is about to become a tour de force in the world of books.
“So many books, so little time,” was the phrase that prompted Bookmarks’ founder and editor, Jon Phillips to start the magazine. “With so many wonderful books, often surrounded by quite a few mediocre ones, how we select the books to which we devote our time is vitally important,” he says. Of the choice of titles and the quality of opinion, Kurt Vonnegut says, “…nowhere else have I found such thoughtful and literate reportage on the state of the American soul, as that soul makes itself known in the books we write.” I couldn’t have said it better.
More than 50 new books from more than 250 major book reviews are rated within specific genres—literary, crime, SF, biography history and science. Departments include book group profiles, readers' picks, the “if you can only read one book in the genre” recommendation from the staff. Articles include author profiles (from Thomas Hardy to J.M. Coetzee—with recommendations from the oeuvre), usually a discussion of a specific genre also accompanied by recommended titles and often a compilation (and synopsis) of titles recommended by a team of experts in a specific field or subject—from gardening to Islam. Presentation is glossy full color and graphics are plenty lively.
Yeah, so, you say. What has this, albeit great, magazine to do with this month’s sea book review on Maine Harbors? Well, get ready. In the latest issue (July/August 2006), Bookmarks has done my work for me—in spades. Dean King (Patrick O’Brian: A Life Revealed—reviewed here in October 2000) and a group of “highly qualified” friends have chosen “101 Crackerjack Sea Books.” Even better, Bookmarks has posted the article in its entirety on www.bookmarks.com. The link is right on the site’s front page.
Which leaves little left for me to say except to offer a few opinions cleverly disguised in a thicket of shaky statistics. For instance, the team of experts consists of Mr. King, “a well established as an authority on nautical literature and history,” a former director and editor at the Naval Institute Press, a professor of Maritime History at the Naval War College, and two professors of English from eastern civilian universities and one professor emeritus who is, no doubt, Nathaniel Philbrick’s father.
“Out of this wonderful chaos of sea books,” writes King, these august gentlemen chose twenty-two undisputed classics like the Odyssey, Moby Dick, Old Man and the Sea, the Master and Commander series and the Hornblower series (each counted as one title), Treasure Island, Kontiki, Captains Courageous and so forth. No debate there. Every book is a treasure. Titles written before 1800 numbered four. Nineteen titles were chosen from the nineteenth century, sixty-three from the twentieth and twelve from the twenty-first.
In very loose categories, there are twenty-three titles about naval history, war and sea battles, ten tales of discovery (like Philbrick’s Sea of Glory, reviewed here in January, 2004), nine survival stories (including three about Shackleton, all reviewed here in October 1999) four apparent comedies, including Mr. Roberts, one mainstream novel, Jaws, one children’s story, Island of the Blue Dolphins, one book on surfing, one on hurricane Isaac and a science fiction title, the classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Thoughtful non-fiction includes Looking for a Ship and The Long Way. Two books on racing and two science based titles and two female authors, Rachel Carson and Caroline Alexander also make the list.
While earnestly attempting to expose “readers to a greater number of worthy authors, many of whom might otherwise be lost in the shadows of the canonized authors,” King and his team seem to have stuck pretty close to the canon. The obscure gems on this list are few but will no doubt prove exciting discoveries. Mostly you can revel in your memories of past reads and vow to revisit them. That alone is a service well-rendered.
For my part, I have been inspired to go back over Maine Harbor’s list of more than 100 sea book reviews and pick ten of my very favorites for your further consideration. Maybe next month if another crackerjack title isn’t released in the meantime. And don’t forget to subscribe to Bookmarks!