Fans of Moby-Dick should read Nathaniel Philbrick’s outstanding historical account In the Heart of the Sea. The book, which tracks the fate of The Essex, a New England whaling vessel sunk by a humongous sperm whale in the South Pacific, is vivid and harrowing. It’s also, as it turns out, only one of the naval catastrophes to befall George Pollard, Jr., The Essex‘s captain: a second wreck of his was recently located off the coast of Hawaii.
“Sometimes I fear that Midwestern authors are seen from a similar vantage point: that many of us are ‘fly-over writers’ to whom readers wave (or just ignore completely) as they make their way to Saul Bellow and Stuart Dybek and Marilynne Robinson. I fear that these bigger names, along with a few others (Charles Baxter, Lorrie Moore), are seen as exceptions to the general rule that little of cultural worth grows in this flat, middle stretch of the country.” On the plight of the literary Midwesterner.
If you’re a professor or mentor, it’s the time of year you should expect to be hit up for recommendation letters. You can find inspiration in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s recommendation letter for Walt Whitman, when the latter was seeking government employment despite his controversial poetry. “He is known to me as a man of strong original genius, combining, with marked eccentricities, great powers & valuable traits of character: a self-relying large-hearted man, much beloved by his friends.” Even if the government didn’t like Whitman’s work, we do; read our own Michael Bourne’s essay on the power of Whitman’s poetry.