Life of Pi

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the first third of this book. I loved Pi and his rambling thoughts about life, animals, religion, and experience. 5 stars up to that point. But after the shipwreck it drifted down to 3 stars, so I’ll give it 4 overall. The lifeboat experiences became tedious, too many gory details, although perhaps it was intended to portray the monotony of endless days just trying to survive. This is not a fantasy novel. But it is not quite allegory either. It reminds me of a phrase we use at church after the reading of scripture. “I don’t know if it really happened this way, but I know the story is true.” This book is not what I expected. It is a witness to the worst that can happen to a human being and how we frame our experiences in light of whatever beliefs we have about life, God and the universe that allow us to survive and make sense of things without going insane. I look forward to seeing the movie.

Book Description: Piscine Molitor Patel, nicknamed Pi, lives in Pondicherry, India, where his family runs a zoo. Little Pi is a great reader. He devours books on Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, and to the surprise of his secular parents, becomes devoted to all three religions. When the parents decide to emigrate to Canada, the family boards a cargo ship with many of the animals that are going to new zoological homes in North America, and bravely sets sail for the New World. Alas, the ship sinks. A solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the surface of the wild blue Pacific. In it are five survivors: Pi, a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. With intelligence, daring and inexpressible fear, Pi manages to keep his wits about him as the animals begin to assert their places in the foodchain; it is the tiger, Richard Parker, with whom he must develop an inviolable understanding.


Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of ThemMoby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was delightful. But I like science, and I like quirky. The author is a journalist and a teacher, so he is good with words. Like Moby-Dick, this book is a little of everything – travelogue, scientific investigation, history, sociology, ecology, sea adventure, humor, and the story of an obsession, told in a peripatetic stream of consciousness. That, of course, makes it overall a bit unfocused, with no particular point or conclusion. It is all about the search and where it takes him. I liked his references to Moby-Dick, and I was struck by his insights in the epilogue regarding Melville and fatherhood as it develops in Moby-Dick, as Melville became a father halfway through writing his book. In trying to keep this light hearted, I think Hohn loses something of the seriousness of the growing problem of plastic and what it is doing to our environment. He does very little to address conservation and recycling. Yet his reportage of clean-up efforts makes it clear that this is a monster waiting to devour us.

Description: When the writer Donovan Hohn heard of the mysterious loss of thousands of bath toys at sea, he figured he would interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers, and read up on Arctic science and geography. But questions can be like ocean currents: wade in too far, and they carry you away. Hohn’s accidental odyssey pulls him into the secretive arena of shipping conglomerates, the daring work of Arctic researchers, the lunatic risks of maverick sailors, and the shadowy world of Chinese toy factories. Moby-Duck is a journey into the heart of the sea and an adventure through science, myth, the global economy, and some of the worst weather imaginable.

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Moby-DickMoby-Dick by Herman Melville

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Long, rambling, and something of a sea monster of a book. Called by one early critic “a chowder of a book,” I would have to agree. At times it is brilliant, laugh out loud funny, thought-provoking, philosophical, and I can certainly appreciate all the historical detail. It’s just not a subject I have any great interest in, or affinity for. Is it the greatest American novel ever written? It is certainly iconic, and I am glad that I have made the effort to finish the whole thing.

Book Description: The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out a specific whale—Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author’s lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humor, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

Opening lines: “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

The Nautical Chart

The Nautical ChartThe Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve finished in my Moby Dick reading challenge – to read at least 12 books in the next few months with some connection to Moby Dick, which I’m currently reading. The opening lines immediately recall those of Moby Dick: “We could call him Ishmael, but in truth his name is Coy. I met him in the next-to-last act of this story, when he was on the verge of becoming just one more shipwrecked sailor floating on his coffin as the whaler Rachel looked for lost sons.” There is not only the reference to the famous opening line “Call me Ishmael” but we also have a reference to Queequeg’s coffin which figures prominently in Melville’s tale. Like Moby Dick, The Nautical Chart is a tale of obsession. Tanger obsessed with finding the treasure of the sunken Dei Gloria, and Coy obsessed with Tanger, despite the underlying currents that she will probably lead him to his death. There are literary and pop-culture references galore: The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Odyssey, TinTin’s Adventures, The Da Vinci Code, Master and Commander, Lord Jim, The Old Man and the Sea, and Treasure Island, to name a few … and it was mildly amusing to pick those out. This was an enjoyable tale, not too bogged down with nautical terminology, but somewhat predictable. The adventure is more on an intellectual level than physical, with good characterizations that border on caricatures. But what’s not to like about an evil, Argentinian dwarf henchman with froglike eyes? I was also amused by Coy’s name. I don’t know if this was intentional, being translated from Spanish, but he is anything but coy, being pretty simple, direct and even aggressive in his approach to life and love. The ending isn’t much of a surprise, it’s the journey getting there that is the story.

Description: International best-selling author Arturo Perez-Reverte, a celebrated master of smart, gripping thrillers, draws favorable comparisons to such literary legends as Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, and Patrick O’Brian. Translated into 19 languages, his books have sold more than three million copies worldwide. At a maritime auction in Barcelona, Merchant Marine officer Manuel Coy sees an intense bidding war erupt over a seemingly innocuous 18th-century atlas. The auction winner is the beautiful Tanger Soto, who is obsessed with a Jesuit ship sunk by pirates in the 17th century. Joining forces, Tanger and Manuel hit the seas in search of Dei Gloria and its precious, yet unidentified, cargo. Their quest sends them not only into dangerous waters, but also into the perilous recesses of the human heart. Full of adventure and suspense, The Nautical Chart is a masterful romance of the sea. George Guidall’s thrilling reading makes for an unforgettable listening experience.

Master and Commander

Master and Commander (Aubrey/Maturin, #1)Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled a bit with this first book in the Aubrey/Maturin series. Listening to the recorded book by Patrick Tull, I found it hard to follow while driving in the car. While I appreciated the historical details and the witty dialogue, I found it next to impossible to keep track of any plot. So I just kind of let it wash over me, and probably have a good sense of the overall picture. But now I need to go back and read the book, and then I think more of the intricacies will fall into place. Like Jane Austen, this will probably grow on me with repeated exposure. I have heard that the first book is a bit different and a bit more difficult than the rest of the series. So I have promised myself to give it at least three books…

Description: Master and Commander introduces Royal Navy Lieutenant Jack Aubrey and his shipboard surgeon, Stephen Maturin. Overweight, too ambitious for promotion and dangerously prone to plunder, Aubrey is an extravagant, yet likeable character. Maturin, the more cultivated of the pair, would feel right at home in a novel by Jane Austen. O’Brian writes not only of the duels, the shipboard terrors and spectacular broadsides, but includes the day-to-day experiences of his characters. He is as much concerned with these men’s land-bound exploits as he is with their grander, grimmer battles at sea.