Thursday, November 04, 2010

book report: I heart Jerry Dennis

You know how when you see a great movie and then leave the theater feeling like you just MUST tell someone about it?!  I just finished reading The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas by Jerry Dennis, and I have that same 'must tell someone' feeling.  This book is 5-star all the way -- a must-read for sailors, Midwesterners, folks who drink water, Canadians, and anyone who doesn't fall into any of these categories.

I casually added this book to my library reserve list while surfing for books on cruising Lake Michigan or Lake Erie (something I aspire to do on my Catalina 22 next summer.)  When packing for a recent business trip to Brookfield WI, I tossed it into my bag, thinking it would be cool to read a book about the Great Lakes after flying over a couple of them (which is really breathtaking, I must say.  Looking down on Chicago's Willis Tower from the sky is killer, too!)

This book tells the story of the author serving as crew on the Tall Ship Malabar for her delivery from Traverse City MI to her new owner, a guy who sounds like a total jerk, in Maine.  As the Malabar makes her way across lakes and down canals and that story is played out, the author also shares thoroughly-engaging lessons on Great Lakes lore and environmental education.

I learned about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a story with which I've always had an uneasy fascination, partly because Gordon Lightfoot albums formed a good part of the soundtrack of my childhood.  The scientific/educational information, something that usually annoys me because reading it feels like work, was easily understandable by someone so easily annoyed by it, and it was all pretty fascinating.  Some examples of what I learned:  (1) Zebra mussels poop!  (2) The eight Great Lakes states are home to one-third of all recreational boats registered in the U.S.  (3) The Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the world's fresh water.  (I think I mostly already knew that, but still!  One-fifth, people!!)  I had a lot to learn about the Lakes.  I learned quite a bit from this book, and I am anxious to learn more and to visit all five of them (remember "HOMES" from your school days?  Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.)

I can't resist quoting my favorite passage in the book here.  After surviving a violent, potentially-deadly storm, Jerry Dennis defines sailing as this:

"... the oldest written mention of sailing was a fragment of ancient Arabic text that read, "Sailing is victory."  In the wind, with the Malabar surging through the sea beneath us, I understood.  Victory over the wind, which can kill you.  Victory over the sea, which can kill you a lot quicker.  Over the boat, over the sails, over your own limitations.  Sailing joins elemental forces in opposition, and lets you ride them.  The illusion is created that you've harnessed the elements.  You've thrown reins on a lion and leaped on its back.  Of course the lion is ultimately untameable, and if you're careless it will turn around in a flash and eat you.  Which is also the appeal."

I am now smitten with Jerry Dennis' writing.  Can you tell?  The final two pages of this book are every bit the beautiful work of art as any painting in any museum or gallery in this world.  You must read this book.


Little Boat Iris said...

Thanks for a heads up on a book worth reading! If you are a cruiser, an oldie but goody I point a lot of folks to is "Two against Cape horn." More dream material for me through the winter!

Shafi said...

I liked the presentation of your blog and I like reading books. It is a great help to know more about the books.