Being as I am an incorrigible book nerd, I spend a lot of time on a site called unbound.co.uk. Yes, it’s British. Yes, the prices are also in British. Yes, the exchange rate is terrible.
Now that we’ve gotten that over with, let me tell you more. Unbound is a crowdfunded publisher. They announce books, you pledge money, and if enough of you pledge the book becomes real. This is not self-publishing, this is a publishing house where you pay for the book before it ever gets printed (or in some cases written).
They have a lot of really cool books, you should take a look, but right now I really want to talk about just one. It’s more of a book event. It’s called “The Riddle of the Sands Adventure Club.”
“The Riddle of the Sands” by Erskine Childers is a 1903 seafaring espionage novel about the threat the Germans posed to Britain’s unguarded shoreline and the adventures of Carruthers and Davies in a small boat on the ocean. And, according to Adventure Club leaders/authors Tim Wright and Lloyd Shepherd, it is “curiously specific about dates and locations.”
“It’s entirely possible to map out the entire story day-by-day. Better still, the book offers the enticing prospect of being able to retrace accurately the footsteps and sailing routes of Carruthers & Davies, and to play out the book in real time.”
Which is exactly what Wright and Shepherd are proposing to do — go on a month long voyage across the North Sea to Germany’s Frisian Islands — and write about it. With maps, lots of maps, and photos, charts, historical anecdotes and practical information for your own trip.
But in their promise to relive the book, have they bitten off more than they can chew? “Riddle of the Sands” opens with a shopping list for Carruthers including such items as “a prismatic compass,” “a pound of Raven Mixture” and “a pair of rigging screws from Carey and Neilson’s, size 13/8 galvanized.”
“The challenge was set,” Wright and Shepherd write. “If we wanted to follow in Carruther’s footsteps, we’d need to hunt down the same list of items. But where can you go shopping for galvanized rigging screws in London these days?”
I don’t know but it already sounds like an adventure I want to go on. Which got me thinking: which other books would be good to live out? Apparently, Wright has already tried this with Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” (so jealous) and Michael Palin did it with Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.”
Come to think of it, there is one place I’ve always wanted to go.
You know who else is oddly specific about dates and locations? J.R.R. Tolkien in “The Lord of the Rings.” If you could only find you’re way to Weathertop on October 6, you can reenact Frodo’s stabbing by a Ringwraith (or, safer, reenact Aragorn saving the hobbits.) October 25 is the Council of Elrond, Gandalf falls from the bridge of Khazad-dum on January 15 and the Ring is finally destroyed on March 25. The whole trilogy is mapped out in Appendix B. Why Middle Earth is on the Gregorian calendar, I don’t know but it added many secret holidays to my childhood.
In all seriousness, what I like about this book proposal is that so often reading is a passive experience. If you’re me, you mostly do it in a supine position on your awesome eggplant-coloured couch. We always say reading takes us places, but rarely does it actually take us places. And while I don’t think Wright and Shepherd are going to get caught up in an international conspiracy while on their boating trip, they’re still going to be closer to the events of the book than, say, me on my eggplant couch.
Maybe not all of our books are going to take us on boat tours of the Europe (and despite my best efforts, Middle Earth is still out of reach) but surely some of them can interfere in our lives in more active ways. Why should the adventures be contained to the page?
If you want to support Wright and Shepherd’s project (and follow their live blog of the trip), visit unbound.co.uk/books/riddle of the sands. It is about $15.50 for an ebook, $38.50 for a hardback edition plus $22 in shipping (and many other fun pledge levels!)