Everyone knows summertime means paperback beach reads, but for those of you who enjoy the open seas more than the hot sand, it also means it's time to pull together your nautical reading list. Whether you're taking a tropical cruise, solo-sailing around the world, partying on a yacht, or just hanging on board harbor side, there's plenty of time to stretch out on the deck and crack open a sea-worthy book.
Boats are a great setting to read with the calming whisper of the waves and the sweet, salty ocean smell wafting all around you. And better to read than stories of the sea and boats themselves? Literature has long turned to the big blue unknown and those who try to conquer it for inspiration and material.
From the hunt for the great white whale in Melville's nautical classic Moby-Dick to the Captain Nemo's underwater exploration in Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea , authors have taken their readers on journeys across the seven seas, to unknown islands, and to the heart of the ocean. Whether you like adventure novels of shipwrecks and peg-legged pirates, sea stories of crazed captains and sailors' mutinies, or true tales of the power of the ocean, there is a story out there worth making room for in your boat's cabin.
So when you're packing your sunscreen, compass, and life jacket, don't forget to pick up one of these nine nautical titles perfect for reading while out to sea:
Billy Budd and Other Stories by Herman Melville
You can't board a ship without Melville, but leave your fat copy of Moby-Dick at home and opt for this slimmer short story collection instead. Everyone on the crew loved Billy Budd, the young orphan boy with dashing good looks and charm — everyone except the Master-at-Arms Claggart, who plots against the young sailor. When Billy gets caught up in Claggart's plot and finds himself at the center of a murder on the high seas, he learns his cheer isn't enough to save him. A short but poignant allegory about good, evil, and the space between, Billy Budd is the perfect companion for your next high sea adventure.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger
You've probably seen the George Clooney movie, but how much do you really know about the October 1991 storm that rocked the Eastern seaboard? The Perfect Storm shares the true and terrifying stories of the seamen who found themselves caught in the storm of the century, including the crew of the Andrea Gail. Fascinating but chilling, this one might be better read while your ship is docked. Otherwise, read it out to sea with extreme caution.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Set in on the shores of the beautiful Caribbean, this prequel to Jane Eyre sheds light on the heartbreaking personal history of the mysterious madwoman locked away in Rochester's attic. Wide Sargasso Sea is a a powerful feminist novel every seafaring woman needs tucked away in her life vest.
The Sea-Wolf by Jack London
A man is rescued from the threats of the sea only to be thrown into a different kind of danger: the wrath of the ship's ruthless captain. Rivalry, mutiny, and shipwreck fuel the action of this adventure story of gentleman versus seaman. Heralded as one of the greatest nautical novels of all time, The Sea-Wolf echoes with the authenticity that can only come from an author who truly knows the sea.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
The celebrated master of captivating narrative nonfiction Erik Larson does it again with Dead Wake, the bone-chilling true account of the sinking of the Lusitania. Both sides of the story — that of the crew and passengers on the doomed luxury ocean liner and the other of the predators lurking in a U-boat below — are explored in this gripping and suspenseful narrative. Another book that's better read docked on a yacht than while out to sea, Dead Wake is a non-fiction must read.
Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian
The first of the extensive and exhilarating Jack Aubrey novels, Master and Commander sets the stage for the epic friendship and ensuing adventures of Captain Aubrey and his ship's surgeon, Stephen Maturin. Set at the brink on the Napoleonic wars and filled with danger, action, and most importantly comradery, this series should be shelved alongside other maritime classics from Hemingway and Melville.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
If you're a solo-sailor, then this story about a young man, a tiger, and a life boat lost at sea will make a great first mate. Fantastical and brimming with imagination, Life of Pi is a a magical and unforgettable parable that was meant to be read somewhere in the middle of the ocean.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Shipwrecks, cannibals, and swashbuckling pirates leap off the pages of this ocean epic that is based on the extraordinary true story of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottishman marooned on a Caribbean island for over four years. Perhaps the most beloved castaway narrative of all time, Robinson Crusoe is required reading for every sea explorer.
Sphere by Michael Crichton
Since you probably already reread Jurassic Park before the franchise's new movie hit theaters this summer, why not expand your Michael Crichton library with the underwater sci-fi thriller Sphere. Scientists explore an alien ship on the ocean floor only to find that even their worst nightmares can't match the terrors of the deep. A creepy, suspenseful trip to deep end that you want to bring with you on your next boat trip.
Images: Lis Ferla/Flickr