As a physical object, my favorite book is my copy of Adrift On An Ice-Pan by Wilfred Grenfell. It was first published in 1909 and my copy was printed in 1911. My copy of the book has a WITHDRAWN stamp from the Albany Public Library and has a reinforced library binding with erratic geometric shapes. The book also has an INJURY NOTED stamp on the top of page 35 (the injury in question appears to be a slight fold on the corner of the page). The book is short, only 69 pages. I like the book as an object, and I also love the story inside.
Wilfred Grenfell was a Doctor and missionary that established a medical mission off the coast of Labrador. The story in the book is an account of getting stuck on floating ice, not believing that he will make it, and then surviving to tell the tale. To me, the joy of the book and the writing can be summed up in two amazing paragraphs.
These are two of my favorite paragraphs, in this book, in any book:
I determined, at mid-day, to kill a big Eskimo dog and drink his blood, as I read only a few days before in “Farthest North” of Dr. Nansen’s doing, — that is, if I survived the battle with him. I could not help feeling, even then, my ludicrous position, and I thought, if ever I got ashore again, I should have to laugh at myself standing hour after hour waving my shirt at those lofty cliffs, which seemed to assume a kind of sardonic grin, so that I could almost imagine they were laughing at me. At times I could not help thinking of the good breakfast that my colleagues were enjoying at the back of those same cliffs, and of the snug fire and the comfortable room which we call our study.
I can honestly say that from from first to last not a single sensation of fear entered my mind, even when I was struggling in the slob ice. Somehow it did not seem unnatural; I had been through the ice half a dozen times before. For the most part I felt very sleepy, and the idea was then very strong in my mind that I should soon reach the solution to the mysteries that I had been preaching about for so many years.
– Wilfred Thomason Grenfell in Adrift On An Ice-Pan
Why do I like those paragraphs so much? They put him at a moment of decision. He is about to kill something that he loves in order to survive, and he is counting the cost as to whether he could actually do it. “He determined at Mid-Day…” he had been thinking about it all day.
These paragraphs include adventure, reading, breakfast, laughter, a snug fire, a cozy study, philosophical reflection, mystery and a moment where someone was coming to peace with mortality. This is also, now that I look at it, a list of my favorite things, artfully combined.
“…I should soon reach the solution to the mysteries that I had been preaching about for so many years.” I love it.
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