Friday, October 22, 2010

A bit of light reading...

What richer fodder could an occupation provide for a writer than the life of a lighthouse keeper? 
Think To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf; By the Seaside: The Lighthouse, Longfellow; the recent Australian film South Solitary; the children's story The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter, Arielle North Olson...
But what if you really were a lighthouse keeper, and you lived in a spiral tower on some godforsaken rocky outcrop battered by tempests with only passing seagulls, the odd shipwrecked sailor and thousands of miles of oceans for company...?
That's what it must have been like in the 1800s....and then someone came up with a brilliant idea. 
In 1876, the Light-House Establishment in America started distributing portable libraries to lighthouse keepers in remote off-shore stations. A system was set up for distribution via light vessels, exchange and updating of texts, so that once a box-load of books had been read by one lighthouse keeper and his family (if he had one) they were shipped off to the next recipient and replaced with a new delivery.
The books were largely fiction but technical volumes were included when requested. All books remained the property of the The Light-House Establishment and were marked in the front with an official bookplate.
Check out these crazy titles from a typical lighthouse library:
Lamont, James. SEASONS WITH THE SEA-HORSES; OR, SPORTING ADVENTURES IN THE NORTHERN SEAS. New York. 1861. 282p. Describes sailing and sporting adventures in the northern latitudes. Illustrated.
Taylor, Bayard. AT HOME AND ABROAD - A SKETCHBOOK OF LIFE, SCENERY AND MEN. New York. 1893. 500p. Decorated cloth. With black and white engravings, etc.
Torpelius, Z. THE SURGEON'S STORIES - TIMES OF CHARLES VII. Chicago. 1884. 349p. Third in a series of six Swedish historical romances, translated from the Swedish.
Chaillu, Paul Du. MY APINGI KINGDOM: WITH LIFE IN THE GREAT SAHARA, AND SKETCHES OF THE CHASE OF THE OSTRICH, HYENA &c. New York. 1879. 254p. Beautiful brown decorated cloth. With black and white engravings, etc.

Images courtesy of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy.


yakshaver said...

This reminds me of an amazing book, also winner of the Booker Prise some 15 or so years ago, where the main character actually made her home in a lighthouse. All a metaphor for gate keeping, overly strong personal boundaries and control-freakishness, of course: The Bone People by Keri Hulme. One of my "top 10" if you like. Hulme has an amazing writing style, probably on par with any of the greats, classics or contemporary.

Rubyfire Writes said...

Thanks Yakshaver....another one for the reading list!