What Are You Reading (offline, that is?)

Hilary Halpern’s lifelong affinity with the sea took her to Santa Cruz for her college education. Here is where she learned how to sail and realized her dream of circumnavigation. Meanwhile, she is working on careers in teaching and writing in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow her writings of inner monologues ranging from dating to tales of her experiences on “the high seas” on her blog: hiladil.blogspot.com.

Sailing and my love of the sea have quite the influence on the books I pick and the books that are gifted to me. Maiden Voyage and Dove have been my favorite stories thus far.

by Tania Aebi
Sailing around the world became a dream of mine a little over a year ago; however, I would prefer to do it in the company of crew, unlike Tania Aebi, who at 18 years-old embarked on her quest to circumnavigate the globe alone. Upon her graduation from high school, Tania’s father gave her the choice of either a college education or a sailboat. He is an adventurous man and a seasoned sailor who already had accomplished more than one ocean passage with his daughter in tow; he wanted to give her the option of pursuing her own adventure. The catch: she had to sail it around the world by herself within 2 years and break the record as the youngest woman-sailor to do so. Tania picked the boat: a 26-foot sloop Veruna. She writes of her voyage in 1989,  four years after she set sail from New York Harbor. This true story is captivating for sailors and adventure seekers alike. Aebi peppers her exciting tale of close-calls, mile-stones (literally), romance, and self-discovery with tidbits of her dysfunctional upbringing and rebellious youth. Her writing is beautifully descriptive and relatable. I found it fascinating to read her reflections on how a life-changing voyage can bring bittersweet feelings of newfound wisdom as well as a nostalgia for her innocence. After reading her accounts I craved embarking on my own adventure.
by Robin Lee Graham
This is another autobiographical solo-circumnavigating tale and is the inspiration of a cheesy 1970s flick by the same name. I recommend Robin Lee Graham’s personal account. In 1965 at age 16 Robin set sail from Southern California on his 24-foot sloop Dove - hence the title of the book. His enthralling voyage took him a total of 5 years. As he sailed from one destination to the next, he would often stop for as long as several months at a time to explore the land as he repaired his boat and collected provisions. It’s interesting to get a young man’s perspective of the world as it was in the mid 1960s. Robin gives insight to his thoughts on society in the United States and how being away from it has an extreme effect on the way he will live his life upon his return. During his laboriously long ocean passages, particularly in the Doldrums, he writes of the downward spiral his mind takes after being with only his boat and the eerily quiet sea for so long, and how easy it can be to waver on the brink of insanity. He writes of his care-free times in tropical paradise as well, allowing us to escape in his exquisite, euphoric descriptions of island life.
I read Heinlein’s suspenceful novel soon after James Cameron’s Avatar debuted in theaters. This fantastic piece of science fiction, written in 1961 has many similar themes to Avatar and makes me wonder if James Cameron drew inspiration from Heinlein’s story for his movie. It was gifted to me by an acquaintance who warned me that “grokking” would soon become a part of my everyday vocabulary.
by Robert A. Heinlein
To “grok” something, is to deeply understand it. In the context of the story, it is to appreciate its role in the universe and realize how it relates to one’s own role which is a huge part of this story. It takes place in some unspecified time in the future, as projected from the 1960s. World War III is over and life is discovered on Mars. On one of the early expeditions to this foreign planet, Valentine Michael Smith, or “Mike” is born and unfortunately orphaned as an infant by his space-exploring Earthling parents. He is adopted and raised by the Martians and as a result, acquires their psychic powers; the ability to mind-read and to make people disappear with thoughts alone. Another expedition 25 years after his birth brings him to Earth and in captivity of the government due to legal implications and planetary politics. This brilliant science-fiction novel begins with his escape by the aide of a brave nurse and a political reporter with a passion for social-justice. As the story unfolds Mike learns the good and bad ways of his physical counterpart and also tries to impart his own Martian wisdom on the human-race. Heinlein eloquently delivers an outsider’s perspective of the multi-faceted behavior of humans and our social and political constructs. He narrates the plot in a way that creates a reflection of how strange it is that we are the only species with such an unquantifiable range of emotion . . . or so we think!
I’m sure this famous novel needn’t an explanation for itself. It is one of the stories I have enjoyed reading more than once.
by Jane Austen
I first attempted to read this classic in high school and had a hard time getting passed the language that I now love getting lost in over and over again. I am fascinated by this time period of the early 1800s and how different life was for women and their relationships with men; yet how the love and tumult between them remains the same as it is between true loves today, some 200-plus years later. Jane Austen’s words never cease to fulfill the hopeless romantic within me and fuel my own love of writing.
And finally…
by E.B. White
My Mother first read this book at age 8.  She has a vivid image of reading the final chapters late at night with a flashlight so as not to disturb her sister sleeping next to her.  All for loss as she sobbed along with Wilbur and the other farm friends in their grief of losing Charlotte.  Eighteen years later in my mother’s, or rather Miss Dowd’s first year of teaching, she still couldn’t stop the tears from welling up as she read the ending of Charlotte’s Webb aloud to her second grade class. The life and friendships between the animals on the farm Miss Dowd loved so much influenced her to create a similarly warm environment in her classroom. Every year of her teaching career she read E.B. White’s story to her students. One year, after failing to control her tears at the book’s ending yet again, one of her students walked up to her afterwards to comfort her and said, “It’s okay Miss Dowd, it’s just a story.”
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