Saturday, December 10, 2011

Island Life

Islands set the stage for heaven or hell and anything in between.  A Hawaiian paradise or the desert island of Robinson Crusoe.  A Jimmy Buffet-hipster way of life or the prison fortress of Alcatraz.  Islands have been manageable microcosm for authors through the ages--Shakespeare created Prospero's Island for the Tempest, Homer stranded Odysseus on an island as a prisoner of Calypso.

My experience with islands started as a kid traveling to the islands of the Great Lakes.  A thirty minute boat ride from my hometown was Kelly's Island Put-in-Bay the next stop.  On Michigan's Mackinac Island, as soon as you set foot on the island, it seemed to be in separate world with its own rules.  Mackinac had no cars--only horses, which reinforced the feeling.  My daughter began to walk on Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan.  More recently, I traveled with my father to the island paradise of Bikini in the western Pacific.  He was stationed there as a 19-year-old Navy Corpsman as part of Operation Crossroads--the detonation of two atomic bombs.  Paradise was blown up 60 years ago but in 2006 seemed to be returning back to Paradise.

Here's a very eclectic and random set of some island books on my shelf.

1.  The Arch of Kerguelen: Voyage to the Islands of Destination, Jean-Paul Kaufmann (1993).   One of the most desolate collections of islands on the planet.  Accessible only by ship, it lies in the sub-arctic zone of the Indian Ocean.  I bought the book wanting to know who lives in such a place and what could they possibly do there.   Bought new.

2.  The Emperor's Last Island: A Journey to St. Helena, Julia Blackburn (1991).  St. Helena is considered one of the most desolate places anywhere in the world.  Following his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon was imprisoned here the last six years of his life.  Bought used at BJ's Books in Warrenton, VA.

3.  Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge of the World, Charles Fergus.  Fergus fixed up a an abandoned farmhouse on the edge of a lava field in Iceland.  He and his family spent a summer there living under the most Spartan conditions without running water or electricity.  Bought used at State Department Bookstore.

4.  Here on the Island: Being an Account of a Way of Life Several Miles Off the Coast of Maine, Charles Pratt (1972).  A beautifully written book with striking photos taken by Pratt, a professional photographer.  Pratt details the folkways of the hardy inhabitants who have lived in Maine's coastal islands since the 1790s.  Bought as a discard from the Beaver Island Library, Michigan (really).

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