Books that are quest themed are almost always interesting reads. I remember as a boy reading Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl and Cervantes’ Don Quixote and just being absolutely enthralled by men on a mission and all the strange encounters and vicissitudes endured by the participants. Here are some new and some not-so-well-known books in both fiction and non-fiction about quests.
Pym by Mat Johnson (2011): It’s literary, dystopian, fantasy, sci-fi, satire, an epic quest, and also very humorous. It’s about race and revolves around a little known Edgar Allan Poe story. A black professor is denied tenure because he sees himself as an English professor and not some token to be put on Diversity Committees. His obsession is the story by Poe. He ends up networking with some others (all black and some of them family) to go to Antarctica and search for a fabled land while drilling for fresh water. They soon meet a yeti-like race of white “snow monkeys” and a clash of cultures ensues. There’s literary analysis as digression while a modern survival drama takes place. The satire is serious though when you contemplate current events.
The Plover by Brian Doyle (2014): It’s like Life of Pi meets Kon-Tiki meets The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. It’s got some great writing and lines like, “Maybe the ocean feels every boat like a scar on its skin and only permits them to pass so that its knowledge of men deepens,” or “Another time the sky was so stuffed with stars and so many of them shooting stars that you would swear the stars were plummeting into the sea faster than the sea could drink them.” At first it’s an epic solo journey of man across the Pacific, but not for long, as friends and strangers join him for a meandering detour that’s called life. It’s real and surreal with the magic realism. There’s a dreamer and there’s a villain. There’s revenge and redemption. There’s solitude and community. It’s a beautiful book that I didn’t want to finish. It’s about healing and finding yourself.
Both of the above authors also have new books out in 2015. Here’s a non-fiction quest that I’ve been recommending for people who want a historical book that reads like a thriller.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides (2014). This is a masterfully told and riveting story. I had heard of the Jeannette Expedition but knew nothing of its high hopes or the heroism of its crew. It was to that time like space exploration is to our time. It was a private/government collaboration with a news media mogul writing the checks and what a character—Gordon Bennett—the financier of this expedition was. He’s a story by himself. Also Admiral Melville, who accompanied Captain De Long, displayed a MacGyver-like ability to make things work. His loyalty and devotion to duty was truly exceptional. I can see why he was promoted to admiral and a building at the Naval Academy was named for him. It’s an epic adventure story with a cruel ending in the wilds of Siberia.
Chris Wright is not sure if he lives to read or if he reads to live. He has been a public librarian