Master & Commander

I entered New Hall Hospital on 9th January, intending to persevere with Patrick O’Brian’s ‘Master & Commander’. This despite the fact that I cannot really concentrate on reading in my post-operative condition.

This novel is the first of the author’s acclaimed series of 18 works focussing on 18th century seamanship. Whilst I could admire the skilful research and the accurate presentation of seagoing life during O’Brian’s chosen period the book’s first hundred or so pages had not engaged me.

Mine is the 2008 edition of the Folio Society, illustrated with contemporary maps and paintings; and detailed drawings of ropes and rigging. It is the immense amount of technical detail that tied me up in so many knots that I could not enjoy the undoubted excellent characterisation offered by the writer.

Back at home, I opened it again, where a telltale bookmark slipped out from between pp 324/5. My practice of leaving bookmarks in my books is featured in ‘Bookmarks’. A secondary bonus is that this will remind me that I have already read the work. That I had no memory of this one demonstrates that I had struggled equally ten years ago.

This time I abandoned the effort and turned to ‘Treasure Palaces’, edited by Maggie Fergusson. This, a Christmas present from Tess and Mat, is a perfect recovery project: short chapters, each a description of a variety of authors’ chosen museums, contrasting their first, childhood, experience with a more recent one. Completing my reading today, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This evening we enjoyed a second sitting of Hordle Chinese Take Away fare.


  1. Did you see the movie Derrick – I did, but don’t remember much about it. Maybe a bit like the book? I think your habit of leaving bookmarks in books is probably a very good one. I do it now and again, usually inadvertently.

    1. For years I used a photo of my wife from a walk we took in 1984/5. I have not seen it in some time so I’m guessing I’ve done what Derrick did and it is sitting in an abandoned book up on the shelf or in a box in the loft.

        1. When I finish a book. I write a little R on first page. I started doing that after I thought I was reading the third in a trilogy and realised that she wasn’t doing a lot of recap, but that I had picked up book one again.

  2. I know how it is, not being able to concentrate, My reading is stilling suffering, I hope you get back to full health soon Derrick, and you’re again able to read well…

  3. Sometimes it’s VERY difficult to get comfortable enough to read especially when in hospital or in recovery mode at home.
    The nice thing about reading…we can read when we can…and when we can’t, the books are waiting patiently for us to pick them up again. 🙂
    I LOVE bookmarks! I’ve made quite a few collage-art bookmarks for friends!
    HUGS!!! and continued bestest wishes for healing and recovery! 🙂
    PS…How is your Mum doing?

  4. I think it takes a good deal of courage to stop reading a book because it’s boring. I give books 30-50 pages and then that’s it. But never make the judgement when you’re tired.

  5. The reader app has not been kind to me of late. It keeps crashing whenever I try to open blogs with pictures. But you are a powerful practitioner of the pen and I get to understand what you set out to convey. I totally agree with the mark your bookmark tried to make.

  6. I attempted one of his books on the recommendation of my husband and abandoned ship long before you did. During the child rearing years I read very little because I was too tired at 10 o’clock at night to focus. I read a lot book reviews and some cozy mysteries. Anything else was pointless. I recently read that because of the influence of smart phones, the internet and other modern distractions, short fiction is more popular now so you’re right on trend. I’m sure that’s important to you. ?

  7. I quite liked the O’ Brian novels but don’t want to re-read them. On the other hand Hornblower is on my list to re-read at some point. I also want to re-read a few of his non-Hornblower novels. You’ve set off a whole new train of thought for me with this post…

  8. Reading is often pure joy – but it can also be a struggle. My beloved stepfather died in 2010, and it’s only just recently that my mom has been reading again. Something about his death took her ability to lose herself in a book right away from her. I’m guessing a big, painful operation would do the same. But super glad to see that you are back in the car with the camera and doing better than the last time according to Jackie. That’s all excellent news.

  9. (Leaving this comment here as well as on your ‘Bookmarks’ post!)
    Lovely that you do this, Derrick. I also enjoy finding and leaving daily detritus tucked between the pages of my second-hand books. Something else I do: I always leave the receipt in the books I buy, used or new. I like having a purchase date and going back in my memories to see what was going on in my life at the time.

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