On lake, stream, and ocean wave.
The Boys in the Boat
By Daniel James Brown
Perhaps the most notorious round of Games, the 1936 Summer Olympics was held in a frenzied, ultranationalist Berlin in the throes of Hitler’s reign — but for the University of Washington crew team, it was simply the year to make sports history. This excellent biography profiles the oarsmen, recently crippled by the Great Depression, as they defeated one prestigious Ivy League crew after another on their way to get the gold. Using the rowers’ own journals, Brown lovingly chronicles this little-known triumph with a rich, lyrical prose: “Their white blades flashed above the water like the wings of sea birds flying in formation.” See the full review by our contributor Katherine A. Powers here.
The Girl on the Boat
By P. G. Wodehouse
The celebrated gentleman writer’s inimitable wit finds its way onto the high seas in The Girl on the Boat, a comedic depiction of socialite Wilhelmina “Billie” Bennet, who finds herself doggedly pursued by three bumbling gentlemen — her fiancé, his smitten cousin, and a longtime friend-turned-suitor — as they travel aboard an ocean liner destined for Mother England. Mercurial engagements, incredible misunderstandings, and doomed proclamations of love complete the salty shenanigans with classic Wodehousian flair.
The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum
By Geoffrey Wolff
A thrilling biography-cum-adventure story of the first person to sail solo around the globe, The Hard Way Around presents the astonishing life of Joshua Slocum. Rising from ordinary seaman to ship commander in less than a decade, Slocum spent his days enduring hurricanes, wrecks, and bouts with pirates and smallpox as he made his way from Liverpool to Montevideo to Cape Horn. At age fifty-one, he resolved to circumnavigate the world — on a diminutive sloop in the age of the steamboat. His subsequent fame, financial ruin, and eventual disappearance are captivatingly detailed by Geoffrey Wolff, in this riveting portrait of a complicated seafarer and businessman. See the full review by Robert Messenger here.
Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats
By Roger Rosenblatt
Two years after the sudden death of his daughter Amy, Roger Rosenblatt climbed into a kayak, set off along a creek in Bethesda, Maryland, and began to meditate on his unremitting grief. An elegiac reverie that recognizes grief — like love — as a formative, necessary entity in life, Kayak Morning gives us the poignant metaphor of the narrow boat carrying Rosenblatt from one bittersweet reflection to the next, as he concludes: “Too much is made of the value of plumbing the depths. The nice thing about kayaking is that you ride the surface, which is akin to dealing with the task at hand.” See the full review by Heller McAlpin here.
The Starboard Sea
By Amber Dermont
This brooding tale of boarding school malaise is Dermont’s fiction debut, a story of student and competitive sailor Jason Prosper coming to grips with a friend’s suicide, transferring schools, and falling in love, against the backdrop of the 1987 stock market crash. Jason’s first-person narrative of his turbulent teenage years is deftly peppered with sailing facts and the nautical knowledge of a well-traveled mariner.