FSG asked me for a short essay about summer reading, so I wrote about my love of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels, which probably constitute the best reading experience of my life. These books were the basis for the superb and criminally un-sequeled movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
The Best Imaginary Friends I’ve Ever Had
This summer I’m going to start rereading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, about life in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. This isn’t the kind of fiction I usually read, and yet my first pass through the series was the best reading experience of my life.
I’m not alone. Director Peter Weir, who eventually directed the movie adaptation, Master and Commander, used to plan for certain trips by determining how many O’Brian novels he ought to pack. David Mamet finished rereading the eighth book and said to his wife, “This fellow has created characters and stories that are part of my life.” Everyone I’ve met who’s read these novels responds similarly. Used book stores frequently don’t have copies on hand; one store owner believed that people who bought the books tended to keep them. And I recently got to know a writer three-thousand miles away when we shared enthusiasm for the series on Twitter. Captain Jack Aubrey and his companion, the naturalist, physician, and spy Stephen Maturin, felt like mutual friends.
I would see these books on the shelf when I worked at Barnes and Noble during college — a long row of similarly sized novels with pastel spines — and wonder who on Earth read them…
And here’s a good scene from the movie: