Reviews & Recommendations

Staff Picks: Best Reads of 2014

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to read more? The staff at the Cal Maritime Library are here to help you! Here are some favorite picks from our collection that we enjoyed in 2014.

Mark's Pick: The Man in the Water

Mark’s Pick: The Man in the Water

The Man in the Water (1961)

Reviewed by Mark Stackpole

Published by a minor paperback house, and never reprinted until this year, The Man in the Water is the greatest sea story no one has ever read.

During the 1950s, Robert Sheckley was one of the major writers of science fiction, celebrated for his sarcastic and sardonic stories. Nothing in his output gave any indication he could produce this intense and violent yarn.

Dennison is a beachcomber desperate to reach New York, Capt James needs another crewman on his boat.  Soon Dennison convinces himself this it would be for the best if the Captain disappears mid-voyage so he can take possession of the boat.

This short novel is told from Dennison’s viewpoint, and fair warning, he is not the most reliable of narrators. Along with the two-fisted (or at least a boathook in a fist) action of the duel between these two men, Sheckley delves deeply into the psychology and self-delusion of the Hemmingway machismo myth.

Just awesome.

Eric's Pick: Lust For Life

Eric’s Pick: Lust For Life

Lust For Life, by Irving Stone

Reviewed by Eric Sprecher

I started reading this biographical novel on the life of post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh when I was out at sea on a ship with a limited amount of books. I did not have high hopes for this when I picked it up, but it looked way better than the many Vince Flynn thrillers we had aboard. I was surprised at how much of a page turner this book turned out to be! I became immersed in the life of the painter Vincent Van Gogh and the trials he went through to be an artist. This book is great for anyone looking for an interesting yet still informative read, and for anyone still curious as to why he cut off his own ear.

Larry's Picks: Wild and Unbroken

Larry’s Picks: Wild and Unbroken

Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed and Unbroken: a World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Reviewed by Larry Stevens

In the past month two movies were released based upon two of the most engaging books that I’ve read recently. “Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail” (2012) an autobiography by Cheryl Strayed; and “Unbroken: a World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption” (2010) by Laura Hillenbrand. The similarities between the two tomes are such that the subtitles could be interchanged (Wild: a story of survival, resilience and redemption; and Unbroken: from lost to found on the Pacific). If you haven’t seen the movies yet (and I’m sure that they’ll be added to the Cal Maritime collection once they’re released on DVD), please read the books first. Although I feel both movies are true visual interpretations of the novels, reading the text lends itself to more in depth images.

When I began reading “Wild”, I was empathetic from the beginning of what the protagonist was experiencing. And when I finished reading the book I reflected on how she wrote about herself with such candor.

Since Laura Hillenbrand* was writing her story with a third person perspective I’m astonished at her ability to convey the intensity of the challenges that faced the lead character.

(*When she wrote “Seabiscuit” I felt I was the jockey racing on the horse on the racetrack!)

So engage with the books, and then view the movies.

Jennifer's Pick: Cleopatra

Jennifer’s Pick: Cleopatra

Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff

 Reviewed by Jennifer Haupt

Cleopatra has been known to us in many different forms: seductress, manipulator, leader of Egypt, and lover of the Roman Marc Antony. She has been portrayed by famous actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh and Sophia Loren, but no one has truly presented the true story of who Cleopatra was.

Stacy Schiff has done an amazing job telling Cleopatra’s story and piecing together the little factual information that is available. The book begins with her banishment by her 13 year old brother (and husband) from the kingdom they were supposed to rule together. After her city of Alexandria was taken by the Roman leader Julius Caesar, Cleopatra was able to have herself wrapped in a rug and smuggled to be presented to Caesar to plead her case against her brother and restore her to power in Egypt. She tells of Cleopatra and Caesar’s eventual love affair that produced a male  heir and gained her protection from Rome.

A new chapter began after Caesar was murdered and Gaius Octavian was named the new Caesar much to the dismay of Caesar’s general Marc Antony. Years later after a trip to Egypt in recognition for Cleopatra’s help, Marc Antony and Cleopatra began and long lasting love affair.

This chapter of Cleopatra’s life shows how she was able to maintain her place in Rome, but in the end could not hold back the power of Octavian.

When reading this book one comes away with the impression that Cleopatra was a master of working the political system to maintain her leadership in Egypt. She aligned herself with the most powerful men in Rome which helped her keep her place of power.

Galen's Pick: Rapid Spanish

Galen’s Pick: Rapid Spanish

Earworms Musical Brain Trainer: Rapid Spanish by Berlitz

Reviewed by Galen MacDonald

Last semester I started listening to audio books in my car. Whenever I drove somewhere I would log 10, 20 or 30+ minutes on whatever book I was listening to, and after a couple weeks, with no additional time taken out of my day, I had already listened to several titles that I never would have had the time to sit down and read.

The next step in my audio evolution was informational material, and I began listening to earworms Musical Brain Trainer: Rapid Spanish by Berlitz. Self described by Berlitz as “the revolutionary new learning technique” for languages, the CD set translates common phases from English to Spanish over a background of stock hip hop and rock beats. Not something that you might kick back and listen to on an average Saturday, but perfect for mobile consumption. I found that what would have otherwise been an aggravating and educationally prohibitive soundtrack lent itself perfectly to driving. I could easily focus on the road while also listening to the phrases. The background music helped it stick in my mind as well, and the pronunciation is native and very valuable.

I think this would be a good resource for brushing up on key phases and terminology, perhaps before a vacation, but should be avoided by a beginner. The material is covered quickly, as the title indicates, and would better augment a foundation of classroom grammar knowledge.

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