Over the Edge of the World

I really shouldn’t claim to be a history major since my lack of basic historical knowledge is woefully inadequate. But finishing this gripping tale of exploration has added some fantastic tidbits of information, and I highly recommend it.
Magellan was Portuguese, and rejected by his king several times when he proposed to find the Spice Islands via water route (also publicly humiliated when the king refused to let Magellan kiss his rings). While trained in the Portuguese royal navigation school, he learned state of the art techniques and routes. Eventually he got the picture after yet another rejection and asked to be allowed to leave Portugal to sail for another country. The king granted his request, and off to Spain Magellan went.
Spain was only too happy to have Magellan aboard as expedition leader (we find out later this is because Spain has yet to find the islands, while Portugal has been secretly trading there for a few decades), and King Charles quickly outfits him with an armada of 5 ships and 250 men. Of this, only one ship (Victoria) returns triumphantly laden with spices, and with 18 men barely alive. The Trinidad was the lead ship, jettisoned to undergo needed repairs while Victoria sailed home, and ending up captured by the Portuguese, ripped apart by the sea, and whose wood was used to build the Portuguese fort on the island of Ternate. The first ship to be lost was the Santiago, wrecked on the shores of Patagonia during the attempt to find the Strait. The San Antonio was the second boat to be lost from the armada, as it was taken over by mutineers who sailed back to Spain after Magellan found the Strait. The Concepcion was burned in the Philippines after the crew found they were too shorthanded to man 3 ships.
Magellan skillfully dealt with multiple mutinies, but resorted to torture techniques left over from the Spanish Inquisition (drawing and quartering, loading weights on a hung man to pull his limbs off). He also named Patagonia, by calling the giants who lived there patacones, or dogs with big feet. Magellan’s stern discipline kept the crew in line, but caused friction since he was not a native Spaniard. After discovering the Strait, they sailed for 90 days across the Pacific before finding land and food. Something happens along the way that turns Magellan from his quest for spices to quest for men’s souls to be saved by Christianity. After taking sides between warring island nations, Magellan is hacked to pieces on a beach in the Philippines. He does not live to circumnavigate the globe, but a handful of his crew do.
The voyage is known throughout history due to the efforts of scribes on board, the most prolific being Pigafetta, an avowed Magellan supporter.

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Dishwasher

Easily digestible and highly readable tale of Dishwasher Pete, who attempts to dish in all 50 states. San Francisco native who has no high aspirations for career path but who wants to get out of the city, he tries college but gets booted, and then embarks on an epic, decade-long quest to clean America’s dirty dishes. Along the way, he meets some girls who get fed up with his traveling ways, but ends up finding a keeper in Portland. “Pearl-divers” among us are to be appreciated and honored.
Pete’s modus operandi is to take a dishwashing gig, and work it until he feels like abandoning ship. For that reason, one of his Rules of engagement is to never take a gig that he can’t easily escape from. But he breaks that rule when he takes a job on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and ends up in a tiny galley with a porthole view of the sea. Alaskan dishing for many months sets him flush with cash for the winter months. New Orleans is notoriously hard for a white man to find a dishjob in, but he eventually finds something. The Letterman show invites him on, but he puts his friend Jess on instead (the fake Pete).
Urban planning pops into his mind as a potential future career, and he ends up in Amsterdam (thanks to an Irish grandfather that grands him EU citizenship) trying to find dishing jobs. Meanwhile throughout the tale, Pete gains familiarity with the community by putting out 15 editions of his dishwashing zine, dedicated to stories about dishing… this is how he gains a following, which turns into a book deal.

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The Paris Review Interviews, volume 1

Fantastic collection of interviews with authors in the Paris Review, exposing them in their native elements, comfortably ensconced on sofas amidst their library, papers piled everywhere, legs crossed and arms behind their heads. And thus relaxed they spill their secrets about how to write, to just pour it all out until nothing is left, to meter it out in small bits, to never stop writing at the end of a chapter, but continue on so that you have a hook when you come back to it the next day.
Hemingway writes standing up, Saul Bellow “art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction”. Robert Gottlieb is simply genius, all of his writers attesting to his precise ear. Joan Didion always rereading Conrad’s Victory before starting a novel because it “opens up the possibilities… makes it seem worth doing.”
Writers bemoan the unknown and forgotten writers (Rebecca West mentions A.L. Barker, who has disappeared from the local library and is virtually impossible to find in bookstores).

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The Education of Henry Adams

I was excited to re-read this autobiography when I saw it pop up on the NYT Reading Room discussion board. My excitement for the book began to wane as I forced myself through hundreds of pages of self-absorbed whiny drivel. While I did shoot off one comment into the blog-discussion-ether, I didn’t feel I had enough days left in my life to dedicate any more time to the hundreds of pages left. Mr. Adams hides behind his pen, does not give us any real sense of himself, and merely capitalizes on his family connections by parlaying blood ties into a book. This book is billed as a great account of a man moving from the 19th to 20th centuries, but my 21st century eyes are too tired to care about his minor triumphs in the diplomatic arts while his friends and cousins were being slaughtered in the Civil War.
And it is on that single straw that I put this down.

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