Saturday, June 26, 2010


The Story of America's Last Sailing Oystermen
Christopher White

Skipjack is one of a growing genre of non fiction books in which the author does something intersting for a year or so in order to write a book about it. Christopher White, a native of Baltimore, MD, moved to Tilghman Island, on the Eastern Shore, and sailed with, sometimes working as a crewman, on some of the last working skipjacks.

A Skipjack is shallow draft wooden boat, with center board and a single mast, sloop rigged, with an enormously long boom and an immense spread of sail. By law, they have no engine on board, but use a small push boat, which is carried on davits at the stern and lowered into the water when used and is operated from the stern of a skipjack. Imagine an eight foot rowboat with a huge V8 truck engine in it, tied to the back of a 40 foot sailboat and pushing it along. Skipjacks lower dredges to the bottom and scrape up oysters which are dumped onto the deck and sorted by hand. Maryland law allows dredging under power only two days a week, so most days dredging is done under sail.

White did an excellent job of capturing the sound of Eastern Shore speech. Dredge is pronounced "drudge" oysters are either "orsters" or "arsters," depending on whether the speaker is from Tilghman or Deale island. Fish are "feesh" and "either" is a multi-purpose word. "We lose a couple of drudge boats either year" he quotes Wade Murphy, captain of the Rebecca T Ruark, a skipjack built in 1896 and still sailing, now taking tourists out for short cruises. At the time of White's residence on Tilgman, in the 1990's, Murphy was still dredging with Rebecca and White crewed with him often.

Chesapeak Bay oysters are under assault from two diseases, MSX, which kills oysters in the more saline waters of the lower bay and Derma, which thrives in the brackish waters of the upper bay. Losses due to these two diseases are aggravated by over harvesting as watermen try to stay in business with a declining resource, using power dreding and "patent tongs," a kind of marine steam shovel. To extract as many oysters as they can before they all die. In the spring and summer, oystermen are hired by the state of Maryland to plant oyster shells and "spat," larval oysters, on the depleted oyster beds.

Skipjack does a good job of capturing the flavor of life on the Eastern Shore, the language of it's people and the difficulty of making a living in a dying industry. I have lived on the Shore for the past 27 years and seen it change from a land of independent working watermen to one of pleasure boats and condominiums. I even built some condos myself. I must be getting old, because I long for the good old days.
This post is part of the 58th Book Review Blog Carnival, hosted by The Book Frog. You can still be part of the fun if you have a book review you would like to share.

Copy the code in the text box below and go to your blog's edit tab. Paste the code in at the bottom of your book review post and save it (publish). Then enter the URL of that post, along with it's title and you blog's name in the form here. The ferris wheel graphic will appear on your post with a link to the carnival (and one to this blog) and your review will be linked from this post. I'm still working on a way of adding a Mister Linky script to the hosting blog.

Book Review Blog Carnival Meme

This post appears in in the

Carnival of Marylandl

keywords: Skipjack, Eastern Shore, Chesapeake Bay, watermen

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Routes of Man

How Roads Change the World and How We Live Today
Ted Conover

One might expect a dull, academic, sociological treatise based on the subtitle but fear not, The Routes of Man is a collection of road trips made by the author over the years, magazine article assignment reworked into a fun, informative and easy to read book.

Conover begins the book with a ride over the Andes mountains in Peru in the cab of a truck hauling mahogany logs. They also carry passengers on top of the load. The highest part of the mountain road is unpaved, filled with switchbacks and unguarded dropoffs and single lane encounters with vehicles coming the other way. Peru is building a modern highway to connect the Amazon basin and Brazil with the Pacific coast, which will make this trip much faster and easier and help to denude the rain forest even faster.

Conover takes a walk on a frozen river in Kashmir with a group of Kashmiri outh who are headed to boarding school. Walking out on the ice is an annual ritual for people from these remote villages, near the Tibetan border.  India is slowly building a road, which will eventually allow the villagers to walk down from the mountains without fear of falling through thin ice. That's a good thing, except that it will also bring the Indian and Pakistani armies closer together, right in their home.

He then takes a ride from Mombasa, Kenya into Uganda, also on a truck. This is the route famous for spreading aids across east Africa. The driver and his "turnboy" are willing participants in this process.

He then visits the West Bank, where he goes through several Israeli army checkpoints. It's easier for an American journalist than for a Palestinian college professor to go through them.

Conover takes a ride on new Chinese superhighways with a "self driving" club.

The road trips are interrupted by a chapter on the evolutionary growth of Broadway, starting with a Wickquasgeck Indian foot path.

Finally, Conover rides with an ambulance crew in Lagos Nigeria. A Lagos ambulance is sort of a mobile first aid station, as people have no other access to medical care and the roads are so congested that they can't get anyone to a hospital anyway.

In each chapter there is a bit  of discussion about how change is inevitably coming down the road.  This is news?
This post is in the 47th

Book Review Blog Carnival

keywords: memoir, journalism, travel

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Carnival of Maryland Visits a Book Blog

I'm taking a little detour from my usual course, today, to host the unofficial blog carnival for bloggers in my home state of Maryland.

Politics, Hon:

According to John Frenaye at Eye On Annapolis, Annapolis Housing Authority chairman, Carl Snowden Arrested For Third DUI Offense.

OM, of Insane Baltimore, thinks that Café Hon and the Remington Wal-Mart may not be a match made in Heaven.

Mad Anthony respectfully disagrees with Richard Florida of the Wall Street Journal. Correlation vs. Causation, or why home ownership isn't wrecking the economy....

Red Maryland points out the shortcomings of political polling using the recent Rasmussen poll on the Maryland Governor's race as an example.

Budget woes have put a stop to zoning ordinance revisions in Prince George's County, according to Creating a Jubilee County.

What's Happenin':

Soccer Dad is missing his ferret but I do not wish to find it. Maybe it's with the snake.

J.C. Nemecek's flower garden has been received a surprise gift .

Bar Bitch Talks Tips at Eye On Annapolis.

The Shores of Delmarva has a list of 18 newly discovered laws of nature. "Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about."

Maybe You Should Try This:

Heading out to BWI for your family vacation trip? Travel Musings has a few tips for Air Travel with Kids and Pets.

Swamp Thing, of the River Mud Blog, takes you on a fishing trip somewhere in northeastern Maryland.

Susan Coghlan recommends birth charts as baby gifts on RedWrites.

The Carnival of Maryland is looking for participating bloggers and hosts for future editions. Our next carnival will be hosted by J.C. Nemecek on June 27th. You can submit a post to the carnival by clicking on this link. Send me an email at the address in the sidebar if you would like to be a carnival host.

keywords: blog carnival, Maryland

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Look At The Birdie

Unpublished Short Fiction
Kurt Vonnegut

When I saw Kurt Vonnegut's name in the new fiction section I couldn't resist taking the book home. Overall, despite being a posthumous publication, which often means writings dredged up by a publisher from an author's dregs, Look At The Birdie does not disappoint.

The stories in this collection would not be considered science fiction for the most part. There are no toilet plunger shaped Tralfamadorians, no time travel, no outrageously simple but impossible inventions. Kilgore Trout is not mentioned once. In fact the book is quite refreshing. The stories are set in a vaguely in the twentieth century, or, in one case, the great depression. Vonnegut goes for the O. Henry ending in most of these stories.

Each story is accompanied by one of Vonnegut's pen and ink drawings, which are interesting, but at the same time, it's probably best that he didn't try to make his living as an artist. Vonnegut would have sold used cars all his life if that were the case.

keywords: Kurt Vonnegut, short stories, short fiction