At Large: From the corner where I tossed them

Publishers send us dozens of books each year. They would like each one to get a full-length review, preferably in the edition that comes out just before July 4. They’d like us to interview the author who, if he is not available in person to talk with us, will make himself available for a conversation on the telephone or via email. For a small newspaper like this one, when editorial space is limited and under howling pressure from competing news and feature stories, it’s not possible to please all the publishers and writers. Nor is it desirable. Discrimination is required.

Some of the writers are Islanders, some of the subjects are Island subjects. Some of the books are about things we know interest Islanders, for instance solar energy or gardening for your health. Some of them — beach reads — have covers decorated with attractive, tini-bikini wearing women, for whom summer romance will certainly not turn out to be the delight they imagined. Some describe hideous murders that take place on the Vineyard, although the writer is not either a part-time or full-time Islander. Some are murder mysteries, in which the murder has taken place elsewhere, from which the heroine has retreated to the Vineyard for the presumed safety of it. Need I say that for her, the Island’s serenity will turn out to have been an illusion.

We also receive non-book products, whose manufacturers do not want a review, just a mention, favorable if possible and at no charge. We get neckties — red, and sporting the Narragansett beer logo. We get sample pairs of Crocs, in purple. We get bottles of vodka, unusual because it is made from soy beans —healthier, the distiller claims, and about to catch on before summer is over. (It didn’t.) We get children’s games with summertime themes, cup and saucer sets with nautical themes, and new cracker-krisps manufactured in South Africa and certain to be all the rage with the health-conscious set. (Never happened.) We get key fobs, socks with cushioned soles, hats with fast food restaurant logos, tee-shirts that say “I’m in a Vineyard state of mind,” and featuring an illustration of a woman in a bikini who looks an awful lot like the woman from the beach read above, plus too many other similar and similarly vapid promotional packaged goods to mention.

From the rubbish and the merely pointless pile growing in the corner of my office, I’ve selected four books and one shoe worth bringing to your attention. They won’t be reviewed, but if they were, the reviews would be enthusiastic.

First, there’s the Croc, for which I owe you an apology. I have broadcast a rather cavalier disdain for this remarkable product since the first pair turned up in the mail a few years ago. But, I was uncharacteristically out to lunch on this one, called it dead wrong, never imagined that all those little holes might give what I thought was a hopeless idea a second wind in the marketplace.

In fact, the Croc has survived and even won me over. Leave aside for a moment the surplus of unwearable colors, the Croc, now in a variety of styles, is a comfortable, durable, homely but sporty shoe that’s deservedly caught on. (We’ve even given an itsy-bitsy version to a one-year-old grandchild, though the only color available in the size was dark grey, which seemed a shame.)

Add to all this the sprightly and colorful inserts that allow you to decorate your Croc according to your own sense of fashion, however misguided, and I’m here to declare a winner. One only hopes the Croc is anti-microbial, ergonomic, environmentally friendly, and waterproof in its raw materials and manufacture, all of which are indispensable conditions for a shoe that hopes to please this greening writer.

Silk Parachute, by John McPhee. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010.

John McPhee needs no introduction. From him, we’ve learned about the nation’s geography and geology, its long distance truckers, its Mississippi River tugboat captains, its any-ocean, any-tonnage tanker captains, and so much more, all revealed in their essential dimensions in a prose style that is clear, relaxed, and incisive, and in a voice that is generous, hospitable, and authoritative. The ten essays republished here are gems every one, and if they are familiar to some of you — New Yorker readers in particular — you’ll be rewarded by a second visit.

A Full Cup, Sir Thomas Lipton’s Extraordinary Life and His Quest for the America’s Cup. By Michael D’Antonio. Riverhead Books, New York, 2010.

Sailors will enjoy this biography of the rags to riches Scottish retailer who devoted an immense share of his immense fortune to match racing against American sailing yachts. His record was not a good one on the water, but his story is a surprising and memorable one, and his biography offers readers with an enthusiasm for history a glimpse of American and European life in post-Civil War America and England at the turn of the 19th Century. Very well-written and engaging.

Overboard, A True Blue-Water Odyssey of Disaster and Survival, by Michael J. Tougias. Scribner, New York, 2010.

No ambiguity about this one; it’s for sailors, and especially for those whose limited experience has led them to dream of offshore passages in small yachts. It’s the story of a troubled passage from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Bermuda, in which the Gulf Stream did its worst to a crew of four, including two utter neophytes who paid their way and in the end must have thought they’d paid way too much or way too little.

Four Fish, The Future of the Last Wild Food. By Paul Greenberg. The Penguin Press, New York, 2010.

Salmon, bass, tuna, and cod are the subjects of Paul Greenberg’s review of mankind’s mastery of and dependence upon these nutritional staples. Mr. Greenberg explains that the effort over hundreds of years has been both fruitful and destructive. It’s a worrisome story, told in compelling terms, acknowledging all the human, economic, and environmental implications that will certainly provoke debate among the competing stakeholders. He doesn’t offer a solution all sides will easily endorse. Each of the efforts man has made to strengthen, expand, and guarantee his harvest of these creatures has drawbacks and consequences that are dangerous to one or the other of the species. There are no easy solutions to the problem of managing these fisheries and the oceans on which they depend, but this review, told as engagingly as Mr. Greenberg tells it, is illuminating.