While PJ and I were in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, I decided to start reading Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey novels, starting with Master & Commander, of course. We were browsing the shelves of Borders, and I decided to buy a copy.

I’d been thinking about at least starting this series since reading The Jane Austen Book Club, in which a character suggests that the club read O’Brian’s novels once they’ve finished Austen’s. (The other members don’t take him up on this, by the way.) The suggestion, however, was that at least most guys who like Austen’s novels would also like O’Brian’s. I had only ever thought of these works as adventure books, not a genre that I’m particularly interested in. Since I’ve needed a little break from reading novels that rewrite Austen’s fiction from different characters’ points of view — at least until Susan Kaye’s second Captain Wentworth novel comes out — and since I clearly enjoy late Georgian/regency fiction, I thought I’d give Master & Commander a try.

I’m glad I did, because I’ve really enjoyed reading it, but I’ll start with the most difficult part about reading it: the sea jargon. As an undergraduate history major, I took a course on the literature of the sea during my junior year. I loved it, and over the course of the class we become generally familiar with the requisite terminology — the difference between “sheets” and “sails,” for example. That’s all a distant memory, and I have to say that, while I didn’t mind the sea jargon, I ended up skipping over it mentally. As long as I got the drift of what was happening, which I always thought was fairly easy to do, I didn’t let the vocabulary get in my way. In a sense, it’s kind of like reading science fiction, where there is often lots of technical jargon that isn’t really important to the enjoyment of the work. Once you think of Master & Commander in these terms, I think it’s a great read, one that combines adventure with an interest in the social aspects of this sub-set of regency British society.

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