In the Heart of the Sea is the true account of the whaleship Essex, which Moby-Dick was in large part based upon. Noah read it before me and repeatedly gave me gory details (hint: survival cannibalism) that totally turned me off, but he inSISted that I read it. I devoured it in two days—much like the sailors devoured their crewmates. Ew, gross. No seriously, it's really good.
For realsies though, it was quite the follow-up to Longitude. Some of the same names appeared in both, and reading Longitude let me in on just how treacherous navigation at sea was for hundreds of years, thus making the feats of the Essex crew all the more incredible. Reading this put me in touch with American history and heritage in a way that traditional history books can't: Philbrick told the naked truth, even when it was ugly. As it turns out, whaling was horrific. Who knew?
* * *When it comes to Sedaris's books, I have a hard time choosing where to start. I chose Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim because the first story in it referenced his family's move from New York to North Carolina, a North-to-South migration I immediately identified with.
There's a lot to identify with when it comes to Sedaris. Also, he's brilliant. One thing I appreciate is how well-rounded his essay collections are; even though they may be variations on a theme (family and love, for instance), Sedaris doesn't linger too long on any one aspect of himself. He doesn't address the same issues essay after essay, repeadedly sticking on one or two idosyncracies like a broken record on an annoying scratch. And that, to me, is the mark of a great essayist.
Having dabbled in personal essay myself this past semester, I've experienced how difficult it is to temporarily step outside yourself and look at part of life through a fine-focus lens. Then you have to step back into yourself and describe what you see. It's tough to zoom in on distinct moments and determine which ones stand alone and which must be connected to a larger narrative. Sedaris perfects this ability.
Plus, he's funny. Despite my literary babble about craft, every author's purpose is to be read and enjoyed. Some funny books are good for a once-through laugh (say, Ellen DeGeneris's books), but the really funny ones are the ones that are also a little painful, and make you wonder if you should be laughing at all.