A world away

I've been out of commission since last Wednesday when I lost my balance playing hopscotch with my granddaughter and ended up sprawled on the street. I had a knot in my forehead (on the way to a nice black eye), and skinned knees, hands, and shoulder. I was bleeding from so may places my wounds resembled an overachieving stigmata. It was actually quite funny; my biggest disappointment was having to give up on the game.

The fall did make me a little stiff and sore though, and as a result I've been enjoying a lot of couch time reading. Having nothing new available I picked up Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander. I knew this was a dangerous thing to do and I am already on volume two, Post Captain. These books are wickedly addicting and if I complete all 20 volumes it will be for the sixth time.

If you haven't read them, you should. The New York Times Book Review described them as "the best historical novels ever written." William Boyd, a novelist and winner of a number of literary prizes,  said, "this novel sequence is not only a miraculously sustained effort but it is also evidence of a refined literary sensibility and one of the best and most authentic historical time machines I have ever encountered." I can only concur.

The novels are based on the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his physician-friend-spy Stephen Maturin. They are compelling characters, multifaceted and deeply realized. But what I love about these books is their humanity, their honesty, and their portrayal of the human condition in all its forms, from deep degradation to heroic heights. And then of course, there's the language: rich, intelligent, historically accurate, and absolutely beautiful. If I sound smitten, it's because I am.

Ray and I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Patrick O'Brian in Portland in the mid-90s. He was erudite, kindly, and full of the subtle humor that his books abound in. As a writer I am in awe of his talent. As a reader I am thankful.

With my body sore and the world tearing itself apart this week, from Gaza to the downing of MH 17, it was healing to open a book and fall headlong into a world not my own. We can't escape our reality forever; we have a duty to it. But when "the world is too much with us," a good book is a great place to go.