Armchair adventures: books filled with heart-pounding thrills
David Wright, a Seattle Public Library librarian who works in readers' services, shares his picks for adventure books for summertime reading.
Seattle Times books editor
Lit Life | Editor's note: for the third installment of our summer reads series, this one on adventure books, we've passed the microphone to David Wright, a Seattle Public Library librarian who works in readers' services. Wright programs and reads for Thrilling Tales, a story time for grown-ups that takes place at noon on the first and third Mondays of every month at the Central Library. Here are some of his favorites.
— Mary Ann Gwinn,
Seattle Times books editor
"The Big Book of Adventure Stories" edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $25): Master compiler Penzler leaves no swash unbuckled (buckle unswashed?) in this thumping great helping of 47 classic tales by a veritable who's who of yarn-spinners, including Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, Baroness Orczy, H.G. Wells, and many lesser known pulp writers, their vintage prejudices intact. Larger than life, and three times as thrilling. Twilight Zone fans, note with ghoulish delight the inclusion of Damon Knight's "To Serve Man."
"In Hazard" by Richard Hughes (New York Review Books Classics, $14.95): In this 2008 reprint of Hughes' 1938 follow-up to his brilliantly disconcerting "A High Wind in Jamaica," Hughes trains his gimlet eye on the SS Archimedes, an overloaded merchant ship, as she is drawn into the vortex of an enormous hurricane. The terror unfolds with the indifference of nature, as nightmare visions of sharks staring down on the crew from a looming wall of water are revealed with the clinical precision of a lightning flash, and doomed birds litter the decks.
"Jamrach's Menagerie" by Carol Birch (Doubleday, $25.95): Victorian-era street urchin Jaffy Brown takes a berth on the whaleship Essex to the far side of the world, to bring back a dragon from the South Seas. Readers who recognize the Essex as the inspiration for Melville's "Moby-Dick" know that we're headed for murky waters indeed — as for what lies on the other side of the weird and dangerous passage, there's only one way to find out. Vivid, gorgeous writing and the most curious literary voyage since Pi Patel found himself on a lifeboat with a tiger in "Life of Pi."
"The Watery Part of the World" by Michael Parker (Algonquin, $23.95): Here's a different sort of tale that starts with a pirate attack and the desperate escape of Theodosia, daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr, who becomes marooned on one of North Carolina's barrier islands. That story is interbraided with another, that of Theodosa's descendants 150 years later, stranded themselves in a modern age that has left them behind. All beautifully told, and so compellingly that it qualifies as adventure.
"Warlord" by Ted Bell (Harper, $9.99): If you like a bit less Conradian chiaroscuro in your escapism, this sixth title featuring superspy Alex Hawke (the first is "Hawke") is just out in paperback, and honestly, it doesn't feel right to read him any other way. Bell takes the trappings of an international thriller (in this case someone is killing the Royals — the Taliban?) and gleefully frees them of their geopolitical pretensions.
"Kicking Ass and Saving Souls" by David Matthews (Penguin, $23.95): Martial artist, smuggler, playboy, horseman, deep sea diver, international criminal-cum-humanitarian: Stefan Templeton's résumé would seem to qualify him to hawk beer as the new "most interesting man in the world" or maybe the Old Spice guy. The kicker? It's all true — it's the story of Stefan's journey from a kid growing up on Baltimore's streets to international felon to founder of an emergency response group rushing disaster relief to the world's most dangerous locales.
"The Ledge" by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan (Ballantine, $26): Get in line now for this chiller, out July 26, about two men who in 1992 struggle against ridiculous odds to escape the grinding jaws of an icy crevasse on Mount Rainier.
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