When I was in the Navy, I served on a frigate stationed in San Diego. I was the kind of sailor who gives the Navy a bad reputation in this town. As a result, I was frequently restricted to the ship. While my shipmates were out carousing, I passed the time reading whatever books I could put my hands on.

Our ship's "library" consisted of a meager shelf in the crew's lounge. Every so often, a box of used books would show up and the shelf would be restocked. I read indiscriminately and without prejudice: Jack Kerouac and Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King and Truman Capote. High art, lurid pulp and everything in between.

In this spirit, The Floating Library will recommend an eclectic range of books to take with you on your journeys. So let's get underway:

Armchair exploration: If you've ever lost an afternoon browsing Google Earth, Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands (Penguin, 2010) might be for you. This gorgeous compendium with the intriguing subtitle -- "Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will" -- offers an imaginative reinterpretation of the atlas.

For instance, Schalansky's entries are fictional, not factual. Take this description of Bouvet Island, located between the Cape of Good Hope and Antarctica: "the first ash-grey albatrosses with blackened heads and white-rimmed eyelids circle above the struggling ship in silent, ghostly swoops, like vampires."

While I don't recommend you use Schalansky's atlas as a travel guide, it's a fascinating book to get lost in.

Few explorers have set foot on more remote islands than Captain James Cook, who's famous for not finding things that weren't there.

This is an unfair description, for as Frank McLynn asserts in his far-ranging biography, Captain Cook: Master of the Seas (Yale University Press, 2011), Cook did much more than disprove the notions of a southern continent and a northern passage -- two of the great mysteries of his age.

Cook's brand of genius was cartography: filling in the map of the world. He spent more than a decade roaming the Pacific until Hawaiian Islanders killed him on Kealakekua Beach when his tactic of taking hostages to strong-arm the locals backfired in disastrous fashion.

While Hunter S. Thompson's underappreciated The Curse of Lono is still my favorite book “about” Cook, McLynn's exploration of cultural factors that underpinned Cook's voyages and his relations with the societies he visited makes 18th century Polynesia surprisingly accessible -- especially on the subject of sex in the South Seas.

Modetravel: The horrors of the days of sail will make anyone grateful for the comfort and convenience of modern travel. Then along comes Jean-Philippe Toussaint to remind us how awful it can be. Especially if you're a horse.

The Truth About Marie (Dalkey Archive Press, 2011) is his third novel about a maddeningly seductive fashion designer from Paris and opens in typical Toussaint fashion: “Later on, thinking back on the last few hours of that sweltering night, I realized we had made love at the same time, Marie and I, but not with each other.”

Marie's ex-lover imagines their time apart with obsessive fastidiousness, delivering a minute-by-minute account of events he couldn't possibly have witnessed -- such as when a racehorse owned by Marie's new lover runs wild in Narita international Airport in Japan.

Here are all the hallmarks of a Toussaint story: the impossibility of love in the guise of infatuation; frenetic bursts of motion followed by an exactingly precise investigation of its attendant anxieties; and situation comedy of the literary kind.

If you think jet lag is bad, try being stuck in a time loop for 10 years.

That's what happens to Charles Yu's time-machine repairman in How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Pantheon 2010). Apparently, it's stressful enough to make him want to shoot himself -- not his actual self, but his back-from-the-future self.

(Think Kurt Vonnegut and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.)

Paradoxes ensue.

San Diegans don't need a time machine to go exploring. Drive to Coronado, take the ferry across the bay -- still the most romantic way to enter a city -- and get lost among the tall ships here for the Festival of Sail, happening Friday, Sept. 2, through Monday, Sept. 5.

Then check out the exhibition Cook, Melville & Gauguin: Three Voyages to Paradise at the San Diego Maritime Museum.

Tell them an old sailor sent you.

Write to jimr@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Jim Ruland blogs at vermin.blogs.com and you can find him on Twitter @JimVermin.


  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28