Best Book - Shai Simonson - "Sailing Alone Around the World"

September 12, 2014


Shai Simonson

Professor of Computer Science

BOOK: "Sailing around the world alone” (1899) by Joshua Slocum

Slocum’s tale is not the most arduous or daring or courageous of adventure stories, but it is special to me because of a supplemental theme, implicit throughout but never directly addressed – Slocum is his own best friend.

I enjoy reading accounts of dangerous explorations that focus on the thrill of pitting one’s wits, temperament, perseverance, and physical prowess against the challenges of nature.  The explorers in these stories are my heroes. The joy they experience by engaging their mental and physical faculties to the fullest, despite discomfort and serious risks, is a theme that resonates for me.  These men and women are not seduced by money, possessions, and leisure; they are driven to pursue their dreams, and they are passionate about that pursuit.

One such book, not as well known as Scott’s attempt at the South Pole or Shackleton’s famous adventure, is Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World.   Slocum spent three years (1895-1898) on a solo circumnavigation of the world in a 36-foot sailboat that he rebuilt from scrap. Slocum encounters different cultures, engages pirates, meets celebrities, and survives storms and serious damage to his boat.   He writes in a humorous, nonchalant style, which is unpretentious, disarming, and inspiring.  Like other books I have read in this genre, Slocum’s narrative is about freedom, optimism, excitement, and adventure – themes that contribute to my love for hiking and cycling.

Slocum’s tale is not the most arduous or daring or courageous of adventure stories, but it is special to me because of a supplemental  theme, implicit throughout but never directly addressed – Slocum is his own best friend.  He spends the vast majority of his time alone, and truly enjoys his own company.  Do not misunderstand – Slocum is no recluse, nor is he anti-social, and he does get lonely.  Indeed, when he comes into contact with other people, he can be charming and engaging.  Nonetheless, he is content to be with himself for very long periods of time. In a world of Facebook and Twitter, social addictions can be as serious as alcoholism.  Slocum reminds me to look inside.

 

BEST BOOK: A regular feature in the "Monday Morning Update" newsletter, Best Book asks members of the Stonehill community to discuss briefly a book that influenced, inspired or moved them.