The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World by Brian Doyle

Robert Louis Stevenson resided in San Francisco for a few months straddling john carsonthe years 1879-1880, at which time he lived in the boarding house owned by Mary Carson.  There Stevenson recovered his health and awaited the finalization of a divorce between his fiancée  and her first husband.  His finances were meager, as Stevenson was at this time struggling to make a living as a writer.

During his stay, Stevenson was enthralled by the stories of Mary’s husband John, a former seamen who had traveled much of the globe.  Stevenson supposedly wanted to write a book about Mr. Carson’s experiences, and this book is an imagining of what Stevenson might have written.

The stories that John Carson tells are fanciful but possible, as far-flung as Borneo, the Canadian Northwest, Australia, and western Ireland.  He tells of stern tribal chieftains and noble shipmates, all with stories of their own.  The most intriguing story is about Carson’s encounter with a feral girl living in a deserted stone village; her future takes her far away from her solitary existence, and she and John are destined to meet again.

One might wonder what kind of influence Mr. Carson’s stories had on the future renderings of  Treasure Island or Kidnapped, or whether Stevenson chose his final home of Samoa, notwithstanding his health problems, as a nod to John Carson and his wanderings.

Brian Doyle is obviously a great admirer of Stevenson’s, and I think he got the rhythms of Stevenson’s prose fairly well.  Doyle’s lively descriptions of pre-1906 earthquake San Francisco the bring the city wonderfully alive; the town is practically a character itself.  The Adventures of John Carson… is also a deep study of the natures of connection and friendship.

The preface and afterword (and the Thanks & Notes!), although fairly brief, are rich in back story and recommendations for further reading.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Fodor’s How to Pack: Hundreds of Savvy Tips for Travel Today, 2nd Edition

     Being in the midst of packing for a trip that I am about to go on, this happens to be the only book I am reading at the moment.  A lot of the tips it offers are common sense things that most of us might already do.  But packing for a trip can get overwhelming and this book can serve as a guide to walk you through the process of packing step-by-step to make sure you don’t forget anything.  As I read through it, I said “Oh, yeah, I forgot I ought to do that” to myself over and over again.  The How_to_pack editors provide lots of check lists – general and trip-specific) that you can photocopy or use as a model to create your own on the computer.  There are also tips on how to whittle down the amount of stuff you think you have to take to something more reasonable and manageable.  Even though the 2003 copyright date of this guide is fairly recent, we noticed after checking our airline’s website that some things have changed since then as far as bringing some sharp objects on board in your carry-on luggage, for the better.  So, just keep that in mind when using this book and do your own research for updated info when in doubt.  There are some bits of advice that they give that are just over the top for me, like ironing every single item of clothing before you pack it, and bringing along a travel iron.  Iron?  What’s an iron?  Seriously, for those who do iron their clothes, this guide shows you how to fold your clothes to reduce wrinkling and to save space.    All in all, I found it to be a helpful book that reminded me of several things that I was about to forget, and enlightened me with suggestions that made me think “Now, why didn’t I think of that?” 

(Heidi Schachtschneider Cary, Information Services)