Life, According to the Kindle

January 6, 2010

Here’s one of the things I love about my Kindle. Not only am I successfully juggling 10 different books at one time. They’re all free!

I live near San Francisco, so it’s especially fun to read what’s essentially a blog post about the city…written in 1836.


Friday, December 25th. This day was Christmas; and as it rained all day long, and there were no hides to take in, and nothing especial to do, the captain gave us a holiday, (the first we had had since leaving Boston,) and plum duff for dinner. The Russian brig, following the Old Style, had celebrated their Christmas eleven days before; when they had a grand blow-out and (as our men said) drank, in the forecastle, a barrel of gin, ate up a bag of tallow, and made a soup of the skin…




That’s from Two Years Before the Mast, a young Harvard grad’s journal of his years working as a common ship’s hand — as they work their way up the Mexican territory on the Pacific Coast which, just 13 years later, would enter America as the state of California.

It’s one of the first moments where I’ve felt such an intimate connection to someone who lived nearly two centuries ago. But while young Richard Henry Dana was traveling in what was then a foreign land, he seems lonely but intrigued, which gave him a special willingness to share his sincere human reactions with a concise humility.

My girlfriend told me Dana was a student of Ralph Waldo Emerson at Harvard, and Dana’s father was a poet. But in his own honest way, I think Dana stumbled into the grandness of literature itself.

Yet a sailor’s life is at best, but a mixture of a little good with much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain.

The beautiful is linked with the revolting, the sublime with the commonplace, and the solemn with the ludicrous…

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