Sosen's Reviews > I Sailed with Magellan

I Sailed with Magellan by Stuart Dybek
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's review
Jan 25, 12

bookshelves: 4th-favorite
Read in January, 2012

Sometimes you tear through a book in one day; other times, it takes years. Either way, it could end up as one of your favorites. I read the first four stories in I Sailed With Magellan several years ago. I got sidetracked, most likely by college, and never finished it--although I enjoyed it. At the time, I probably would've rated it like 3.5. More importantly, though, I just forgot about it; and when I saw it on my shelf, I didn't feel the slightest urge to pick it up and read it.

Then, last month, I specifically wanted to finish one of the many books on my shelf that I'd abandoned. I tried to pick up Magellan right where I left off. I read about one page of "Wild Orchids" before I was intrigued enough that I knew I had to start over. By the time I was halfway through "Breasts", I already considered Magellan among my favorite books ever.

By stringing together twenty years of the life of a character who is obviously deeply personal to him, Dybek lays himself bare through Perry Katzek. Dybek lets us dream alongside Perry in the early years of life where anything is possible; and then thrusts him into the vastly eventful years of high school with its adventures and ambition, yet constant sexual frustration; and then beyond, to the acceptance of a disappointing "real" world.

Dybek's Polish ancestry and the city of Chicago are central to I Sailed With Magellan. Not only am I not familiar with Polish culture, but I haven't even been to Chicago. There were a TON of references to these two things that probably would have made the book even better for me. However, this never got in the way of understanding Magellan. Dybek is interested not in telling his life story through fiction, but in using his experiences and background to write about imagination at its most glorious, and disappointment at its most heartbreaking.

I'm tempted to write a review for each story in this book. "Breasts" is epic; I'd call it literary magic. It's that kind of story that is just as likely to annoy a reader as it is to blow them away. I would say the same about the whole book, but two other stories in particular were amazing to me. Dybek's wandering style is already a huge influence to me. When I start to daydream and wish I was a writer or film director (which is often), I think of creating something similar to what Dybek did with this book.

There are no bad stories in this collection. Great literature is subjective, of course, but I feel lucky to have found a book that I love so much; and I also feel kind of silly for not realizing it when I tried reading it before. I'd recommend I Sailed With Magellan to anybody who likes to read. And if they read it and don't like it, I will never speak to them again. Well, I guess that's a little severe. But I will seriously be really really mad at them and possibly never forgive them.
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