The book I finished while waiting in line at the Passport Office was Barbary Pirate: The Life and Crimes of John Ward, The Most Infamous Privateer of His Time, written by my friend Greg Bak.
I was long overdue finishing it, since I started it about a month or so ago. But I have not cracked the spine of a book in about two weeks. No wait, that would be three weeks. But finish it I did and here's what I thought of it.
First, briefly, through his life John Ward was in the British Royal Navy, was then a privateer, then a pirate and then a Barbary Corsair, mostly sailing from North Africa. His life spanned the reigns of Elizabeth I and King James.
It's true, you may read what follows and think, why, she's biased. She loves Greg. She regularly gets teary at his daughters' swimming lessons. She's thanked in the preface! Of course she thinks it's an excellent book.
I might be biased, it's true, but I also know a well-written story when I read it. Greg's language moves; it's got an active, almost muscular quality to it. He uses big words selectively and well. He uses small words selectively and well. His sentences have flow.
The narrative arc is brilliant. Most readers won't have to hand the knowledge they need to understand good portions of Ward's story. Much of his cultural importance comes as a byproduct of his novel naval tactics, and if you don't know the difference between a round ship and a galley, you'd be fucked to figure out why Ward was on the vanguard.
Greg is able to explain the difference in boats clearly but not pedantically, and carries Ward's life story through and over this digression (and others like it) with ease. He also skillfully switches back and forth between the story of Ward as a person and the story of Ward as a political agent in a time of fairly great upheaval. Greg is good at exposing Ward's humanity. But also good at drawing both how Ward was used as a pawn by the King et al. and how he shaped his own future.
Where I might be biased is that I can hear Greg when I'm reading it. It's his voice, with his rhythms, and his enthusiasm. Anyone who knows him knows that his enthusiasm is infections. If he finds something interesting and important but I don't quite get it, he is always good at explaining why it is interesting and important. Reading this book was like having one of those conversations with him, where I get all excited about something I never thought to care about before.
If you like pirates, if you're interested in views of Islam in the 17th century, if you like a good story and excellent writing: you should buy this book.
Normally, I wouldn't recommend that people go to Amazon, but that's the only place you can get it in Canada at the moment. Alternately, you could wait a month or so and go to Collected Works, because they are ordering a bunch of copies in.
And don't forget to look for me in the acknowledgements.