I adore Neil Gaiman's work, so I jumped at the chance to review this new collection of his nonfiction. I've read bits and pieces of his graduation speI adore Neil Gaiman's work, so I jumped at the chance to review this new collection of his nonfiction. I've read bits and pieces of his graduation speeches and stuff like that and it always makes me stand up and cheer, "Yes! This! This man gets it!" And that should probably tell you where my expectations were.
The collection covers a ridiculous amount of ground. There are the graduation speeches, convention speeches, introductions he's written for books by other authors, articles he's written for magazines, and it goes on and on. The man sure does get around.
And while everything is written with Gaiman's own inimitable style, the book is so big and the territory so varied that there were inevitably sections I just didn't care about. I'm not a big fan of science fiction, so all of that didn't particularly interest me. I do read graphic novels but I'm not widely read in this area, so I was a little lost in that part. I was mildly interested in looking up some of the authors Gaiman raved about, but I never actually wrote any names down and now I've given the book away so I don't think I'll actually find any of them.
Even the parts that I was interested in, such as the fantasy and his articles and speeches about creativity and making art, got a bit repetitive for me when assembled like this. I do appreciate that Bradbury was a phenomenal author, and I appreciate that he was a big influence on Gaiman's work. But two or three introductions/essays in a row about him left my mind wandering, even though they did cover slightly different ground.
Still, Gaiman is such a fabulous, curious writer in his own right and so knowledgeable about so many things that I will always recommend reading any of his work, including this collection. Even though I didn't love it, I appreciated the glimpse inside his own passions and beliefs and thoughts.
Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review....more
In the 1870s, George De Long was bitten by the Arctic exploration bug after taking part in a rescue mission off the coast of Greenland. He wanted to fIn the 1870s, George De Long was bitten by the Arctic exploration bug after taking part in a rescue mission off the coast of Greenland. He wanted to find his way to the North Pole. He consulted with many experts, most of whom seemed to believe that the Pole itself was covered by an "Open Polar Sea." If a crew could just find its way through the outer ice pack, the rest of the trip would be smooth sailing, so to speak. Experts also mostly agreed that it was time to try this feat by traveling through the Bering Strait. Greenland had been tried and led to failure multiple times. The Kuro Siwo (Pacific equivalent of the Gulf Stream) should make the trip easier by warming the waters. With funding from newspaper tycoon James Gordon Bennett, Jr. and under the aegis of the US Navy, De Long and his crew set sail on July 8, 1879 to conquer the North Pole.
This is probably one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read. I've been reading about one nonfiction book a month for the past five years or so but I'm still a fiction reader in my heart of hearts. I generally read my nonfiction at night before bed because I don't worry too much about falling into the "one more chapter" trap with nonfiction.
This book caused me to lose sleep.
It started out a little slow. The prologue was fantastic and hooked me immediately. The ship De Long was on was looking for a group of Arctic explorers who had disappeared. They found a large group of survivors on an ice floe. They had been on that chunk of ice, living on whatever raw meat they could catch, for almost a year. Holy smokes. But then the narrative shifted to De Long's preparation for his own voyage, his research, and some background on Bennett and De Long himself. That part dragged a bit for me. I don't honestly think much could have been cut out. I needed the scientific background to understand how anyone could think this trip was possible and the personal details enriched the story. Nevertheless, I didn't stay hooked until the Jeannette finally launched.
It was an easy five stars from there.
I'd never heard of this ship and her crew so I won't say much about what happened in case you haven't either. They were trapped in the ice within a few months of setting sail. They were very well-supplied so life wasn't terribly difficult for them at first, considering the circumstances. One description left me with a haunting image of a ship, her crew of 33 men, some candles and lanterns, and nothing but hundreds of miles of unrelenting darkness and emptiness for months on end. It makes my chest tight just to think about it. Anyway, their circumstances did eventually change and they found themselves struggling against Nature herself for survival.
I can't even begin to imagine enduring what these men endured. I was ready to lie down and die just reading about it. I don't have one speck of whatever it is that causes someone to leave the comfort of hearth and home to travel to the farthest, harshest ends of the world just to see what's out there. I admire those who are brave enough to take on those adventures.
A crew of 33 sounds fairly small to me but that could have been an unmanageable number to write about effectively. The author wisely focuses on just a few and I was able to follow along easily. These men were incredibly loyal and well-disciplined, especially given the circumstances they found themselves in. There were some ill-tempered men but De Long was even able to keep them in line. He came across as a remarkably fair leader who put the needs of his men first. There were a couple of other standouts, Melville and Danenhower. The latter seemed to have been born for life in the Arctic. He could wade through icy water for hours and hours without seeming to suffer any ill effects. He often shouldered a large burden of messy duties simply because he was about the only person who could physically stand to do them. Melville was the guy you always want to have at your side. He could fix anything, find a solution to any problem, and he was stubborn and loyal. He ends up almost literally moving heaven and earth to accomplish what he wants at the end.
This is well-written, engaging nonfiction of the type I like best. I highly recommend it to anyone....more