Skylarks and Scuttlebutts by Lorenz Schroter

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Skylarks and Scuttlebutts by Lorenz Schroter
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Genre: Trivia
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A surprisingly detailed and entertaining book of nautical trivia. It will appeal mostly to people with an interest in the sea and sailing but it was fascinating for this landlubber. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1862079748

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I have a mild interest in the sea and a similar interest in trivia, so this book should have been mildly entertaining. We asked the publisher if we could see it because we thought it might be the sort of book which would make a good Christmas present, but I didn't expect to be bowled over by it.

I was.

I've seen far too many books of trivia in my time as a reviewer. What most of them have in common is that they've been written to take advantage of the market at a particular time of year and the person who gets most out of them is the author. They're rarely interesting and are usually padded with anything that is loosely relevant. This book is different. Lorenz Schroter is a travel journalist and author - and he knows his subject. What he's produced is a lovingly-crafted book full of assorted facts about all things nautical.

For instance, did you know that the total volume of water on earth is 1,385,984,610 km³ and that 96.5% of that is sea water? Water in living creatures accounts for just 0.0001% of the total. We really are that insignificant.

Not everything is quite that serious though. The most popular names given to boats in the USA are recorded and Aquaholic has been in the top ten since 2002. Other popular names? Second Wind, Reel Time, Knot Working and Plan B.

The book was sufficiently entertaining to keep me occupied through four plane journeys over three days earlier this month. It even provoked a couple of conversations with fellow passengers. We had quite a discussion on the ten best sea films. For me it's The Cruel Sea - it used to be on so regularly at Christmas that I'm word-perfect on the script, but the younger element went for Titanic. She said it was because of the special effects, but I wasn't entirely convinced. A young man started talking about the best wrecks and I wondered what had provoked the thought.

It's an excellent book to pick through, reading what catches the eye, but it's surprisingly good if you simply sit and read as I did. There's no particular formal arrangement of the snippets, but I did sense broad themes emerging. Several pieces about birds appeared in close proximity and some recipes had my mouth watering.

You might be wondering about the origin of the title of the book. Well, skylarking is the act of running about the rigging of a vessel in sport (only for those with a strong grip and good head for heights) and a scuttlebutt was a water cask on a ship. As this was where sailor exchanged gossip when they gathered for a drink it became a common term for rumours - or those who passed them on.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of this book to The Bookbag.

If you are a sailor we can recommend Ellen MacArthur's autobiography Taking On The World.

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Magda said:

Oh, considering that I have a prfessional interest in the trivia and a substantial (and, erm, genetic) interest in the sea, I should buy it now!

Sue replied:

You'll enjoy it, Magda!