This man’s writing leads a reader to discover the past in a way that makes it real, exciting and new, even though it’s an old story, one the reader supposedly knew. This week I read an interview with Philbrick by Jacqulene Brzozowski in the Spring, 2014 issue of the online journal Mount Hope Magazine. That led to another interview I accessed online by Ben Shattuck for Paris Review, July 24, 2013. Philbrick discusses his writing, both subject matter and process.
You are perhaps familiar with some of his best known books.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2001). National Book Award Winner
The Mayflower: The Story of Courage, Community, and War (2007) Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution. (2013)
These are the ones I’ve read and so are most familiar to me. There are others. I highly recommend any and all. His latest book is Why Read Moby-Dick. It is a departure from his usual fare, a slender volume giving many reasons to read or reread Moby Dick. I understand movies are in the works based on In the Heart of the Sea (Ron Howard) and Bunker Hill (Ben Affleck).
When Philbrick talks about writing history, he emphasizes the importance of character to move a story forward. He goes on to say that historical detail brings the past to life. He researches archives and goes to the places he writes about to see and discover. He researches to discover the character and the character’s world.
He writes narrative non-fiction. He recreates circumstances and places in vivid detail enabling the characters to live and breathe, rather than creating dialogue. When talking of his writing process he says “the note-taking is everything for me.” He describes his notebooks and his extensive note-taking, and tells how he moves from note-taking to creating a book. The amount of learning, what he gets into his head, seems amazing.
In the interview for the Paris Review he says, “For me, it’s the act of discovery gives the prose life.” Reading his interviews one feels he deeply enjoys the connection and evolutions of a society. So history is made.
So we discover it, thanks to Mr. Philbrick. I never expected to read a book about whaling. I did and it was and is unforgettable. Please share your comments about Mr. Philbrick, any of his books or tell us which one is on your reading list. And, we are always looking for movie news. Keep us posted!