Blue Water Vagabond

This week, completely by accident, I came across a book by Dennis Puleston, a man who, on a sailing voyage that began in England and lasted six years, happened to spend quite a bit of time here in the Virgin Islands. According to Blue Water Vagabond, first published in 1939, island life back then was idyllic.


“It is an isle serene, forgotten and undisturbed by the restless world outside,” he wrote about Tortola, continuing, “no noise of cars startles its one drowsy street, no cablegrams send shudders through its noontide rest… We fell in love with the Virgins from the first.”

He describes inviting Dr. Wailing, who was acting commissioner of the territory then, onto his boat, only to later receive an invitation to come stay ashore in Dr. Wailing’s house after the kind doctor was appalled at the boat’s stink (Puleston and his sailing companion had a dead rat somewhere on their boat).

Once settled, they lived as I imagine many did here in those days: “We bought a fishpot and kept ourselves in fish. Sometimes we went out with a torch on the reefs at night to spear crawfish. We rambled over the mountains and swam in the sandy bays.”

He describes visits to The Baths, to Fallen Jerusalem, and Norman Island, and, one trip he’d looked forward to for some time, to meet the people of Anegada, whom he had read “make their living by fishing and wrecking.”

After describing his first impression of the island, he writes that “the men who can make a living in such an unfruitful place must needs be a resolute and hardy folk… They are bold sailors and energetic fishermen.”

Puleston’s ship the Uldra was also an early charter yacht. A pair of American tourists had tried first in Puerto Rico, then in St Thomas to hire a sailboat for an island cruise, but had struck out. Someone on St Thomas remembered Puleston’s recent visit, however, and suggested the pair look for him on Tortola.

“So the Americans had jumped aboard the first sloop Tortola-bound, and here they were,” Puleston wrote, going on to describe that the tourists hired Puleston and his companion. The cost: all the running expenses of the trip.

The foursome wound up “vagabonding down the islands” for several months, and Puleston includes mentions of all the ports they stopped in – I shouldn’t be surprised that a foursome of young single men basically hung out on the islands that had the prettiest women, right?

What touched me the most about what I read was how Puleston and his friend felt after dropping off the American tourists in St Thomas and were heading back to Tortola, which I very much related to after just a year or so here.

“Seems like being at home again, doesn’t it?” the friend asked, and Puleston felt he was right.

“In spite of all the other islands I had seen, I was glad to be back. I loved Tortola more than ever.”


This column appeared in the Aug. 23 edition of the Limin Times.

Bookworming it, part 2

I have always been a reader. Not the type of reader who enjoys the occasional sit with tea and the cat for an hour, mind you. No, I’m the type who, at 10 weeks into 2017, has read about 20 books. In my college days, I had shelves and shelves of books of my own, in addition to memberships at multiple libraries to feed my need to read. But with few bookshops, a tiny local library, and an even tinier apartment, I’ve had to adjust since coming to the BVI.

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My latest book purchase came with a matching bookmark.

The main thing was to be ruthless about my bookshelf. Parting with some of my beloved favorites was only made tolerable by the way I got rid of them: they went to friends, coworkers, or to the Red Cross thrift shop. Knowing that my novels and nonfiction would be enjoyed by some other reader made it okay that I was parting with them. Today, my bookshelf – just one! – is home to maybe two dozen tomes. Some are sentimental favorites I know I will want to re-read, while others are useful reference books. Fellow die-hard readers have probably already guessed that I also have a couple that have been on the shelf for years that I swear I will get around to reading one of these days.

You might wonder how I squeeze such a high volume of reading into my schedule. Technology helps a lot. Thanks to the internet, I have access to digital versions of almost anything I could want to read, from bestsellers to niche genre books and graphic novels to classic poetry. They get loaded onto my tablet and, since they’re digital files, I don’t feel wasteful when deleting them after I’m done.

I think the main way I get so much read, however, is that I do it daily: It’s how I unwind at the end of the day. Since I’m naturally an auditory person, a lot of what I read might be more accurately described as listened to. If you see me walking around town with my headphones in, the chances are good that it’s an audiobook, not music, that I’m listening to as I go.

If you’re so inclined, I can’t recommend audiobooks enough. Being able to read while doing mundane tasks like laundry, cleaning the house, or sitting in traffic not only makes the task pass more pleasantly, it also gives me the sense that I’m a multi-tasking superhero. And of course, it’s nice not to have to drown in paperbacks to maintain my two-books-a-week habit.

This column first appeared in the March 30 Limin Times.


Bookworming it

You guys 2016 is almost over and I’m proud to say I read more books than I can count this year! Here are some of my favorites that actually came out this year. You should read all of them and then talk to me about how great you think they are. Or fight me if you don’t like them.

obeliskThe Obelisk Gate
Easily the best thing I read this year. What I love about excellent fantasy is falling into a world that is super different from mine but still makes sense. In this case, N.K. Jemisin has created an earth that is pissed off at humanity and taking out its revenge with gnarly seismic activity; and certain humans have (possibly evolved?) the ability to respond by diverting the shakes and even by using geologic energy as a weapon. I love the powerful and imperfect main character, Essun, and the cool way we’ve gotten to know her (both here and in The Fifth Season, the first in the series). This second in the series shows us more about Nassun, Essun’s daughter, who is young but looks to be just as powerful as her mom. Just like the first one, the story is epic and engrossing and sometimes sad but ultimately super satisfying. I can’t wait for the next installment.

potterHarry Potter and the Cursed Child
This one took me a whiiiiiiiile to get into. Time moves super duper fast in the beginning and there is this scene on the Hogwart’s Express that just… why? Anyway, I walked away from the script for MONTHS. But I am truly a die hard fan and anything from the Potterverse deserves at least a couple of chances from me. So.

I’m so glad I came back to it! Harry and his friends are all grown up but still endearing. I would have liked to get to know the next generation better, but since it’s many years crammed into one stage show there’s not enough time. The way this script shows the relationships between kids and their parents was really moving – Basically, even if you saved the magical world from the Dark Lord, at least one of your kids is bound to think you’re annoying. I really hope I get to see it performed somewhere live someday!

towerThe Tower of the Swallow
I’m actually not quite finished with this one but I love it so much. To me this whole series is gold. It reminds me of how great it is when authors play around with some of the beloved “high fantasy” tropes established in classics like The Lord of the Rings. The Witcher for whom this series is named, for example, is like what you would get if Aragorn, instead of being inherently magical (and let’s be real — BORING!), was a regular orphan who became a highly trained badass fighter. And had flings with feminist sorceresses. And was best friends with a lecherous bard…

Anyway, as the series has continued, The Witcher himself has become just one of several important (and awesome) characters, many of them as badass as The Witcher himself and also ladies, which is fun. This book mostly follows Ciri, The Witcher’s now-teenaged apprentice, who also happens to be the heir to a warrior queen and the subject of a mysterious elven prophecy. If the title sounds familiar, the novels were the basis of a popular video game that I will probably never play.

taxiMidnight Taxi Tango
They call this “urban fantasy” which I gather means that magical stuff happens within an otherwise normal, contemporary city. I call it a page-turner starring a half-dead dude named Carlos who works as an agent for the Council of the Dead and Kia, his sassy teen girl sidekick. This book is the second in the Bone Street Rumba series, and I feel like it’s much creepier than the previous one. (Honestly, if you have a roach phobia do not read it.) Usually any type of horror is not for me, but these characters are people I want to spend time with in real life (especially Reza, who reminds me of a favorite auntie). Plus there is this cool mystery thread of who the heck Carlos was in life and why he became a half-dead agent. Anyway all this makes it a really engrossing and delightful read. (Related: so far I have loved everything I’ve been lucky enough to come across by Daniel Jose Older. Shadowshaper is among my favorite books ever.)

nofxThe Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories
One of the greatest pastimes of my teens and 20s was going to see shows. Birthdays, road trips and visits to friends far away would be planned around seeing my very favorite bands, including NOFX. I loved the energy, the oddly introverted nature of this social activity and of course, the music. Heavily amplified music and huge crowds of people aren’t so much my jam these days, but this book reminded me of that part of my life in a good way. Even though I can still sing the catalog, I was never the type of fan to read all the interviews or keep up with whatever might have been going on with the bands’ lives outside of the music, so I learned a lot about the members that I didn’t know before. I also dug how since they formed the band when they were basically kids, reading it lets you see how the guys grew up. This one was extra special in audio format because most of the chapters are read by the band members, except for the ones that are read by special guests like (swoon) Jello Biafra.
loverThe Japanese Lover
Okay so this one actually came out in 2015, but it was December so I’m counting it. Plus, it’s sooooo good. I love these broad sweeping romantic stories, but I also love the California of this book, the way the characters all have a very specific ethnic identity, and how loving Allende is with all the elderly people we meet in the story. Even though this type of story is definitely my jam and the author has been on my “to read” list for years, this was my first time reading anything by her.

Also, if I have to go to a home when I’m old, I hope it’s just like the one in this book.


So as I review this list I realize that all these are books I listened to and didn’t actually read on the page. I guess I really am an audiobook junkie. The bonus of this is that my walks across town, laundromat time, mundane chores around the house, etc. can be spent on books. The drawback is that sometimes I start listening to a book and I’m so turned off by the reader that I give it up even though I’m interested in the story (Looking at you, Game of Thrones).