I had built up very big expectations for "Dead Wake". I loved the other works of Larson's that I had read and gobbled his most recent offering down the second my hot little hands got on my library copy. (I had to wait to get my own copy at the signing.) I knew some things about the Lusitania: great loss of life, some cargo was suspect, and that it went down near Kinsale, Ireland. (Though I confess I thought it was journeying from England to American when it sunk, not the other way around; which is what happened in reality).
War was brewing, and though there was some worry (and some cause) about boat travel most people had no trepidation about sailing on the Lusitania. She was a greyhound of the sea, and most people felt comfortable that she could outrun anything the Germans had in their navy. (Which would only work if she saw the threat coming, but that's the thing about U-boats...) And as of April 1915 she's had over 200 successful crossings.
I seriously want to tell you guys everything about this book: the interesting people who were passengers, the acts of heroism & the acts of cowardice in a time of crisis, amazing survival stories, and heartbreaking deaths. There is a passage in the book about people who died putting their life vests on the wrong way and I think it will haunt me forever.
This book is really Larson at his greatest. It's a book that, even though you know the sad ending, has your heart in your throat. I love the little side stories that don't directly deal with the ship, but somehow are connected. It's an easy 4 stars out of 5 for me. Even if you don't pick up this book, pick up an Erik Larson book, you will be happy you did.
And to close the review portion of this post, here is how I feel about submarines now (a tweet from when I was reading):
"Reading Dead Wake is making me scared shitless of submarines. I'm going to start checking for them under my bed if this keeps up."
On to the author event! Mom and I went to Boswell Book Company on the March 24th to see Erik Larson. The books were pre-signed; if we wanted a personalizations we could have stayed afterward but the line would have been at least 45 minutes and Mom and Dad already had to drive an hour home, so we passed. There was at least 300 people at the signing which was a big change from the Ben Winter's signing! They were both fun and good, just very different. He was promoting his fabulous book "Dead Wake" but also answered questions on his other books too. I took some notes, so I'll bullet point those up for you!
- He joked that he was going to read 28 pages of the book. Then he said that "he would rather have a vasectomy without anesthetic than hear a writer read from their own writing". (He did do some reading from the book but it was not 28 pages, and it was transcripts).
- He loves archives. The researching for his books is "the fun part".
-He says that he doesn't think of himself as a historical writer but a historical animator. He wants to "find the right details that will fire the readers imagination".
-When he's between books and looking for ideas he calls it "the dark country of no ideas". (Sounds like a Bradbury book to me!)
-He doesn't have any desire to write fiction anymore. He has 4 complete novels in his office and "they will never be published because they are terrible".
-He thinks it's great that people want to talk about his books for movies but he doesn't really want to get involved in the making.
-He never adds or makes up dialogue in his books. Every quote is taken directly from a transcript or a log or some other source. (He was very emphatic on this point)
He did some Q&As, some of which are detailed above. I was totally unprepared but made up a question on the fly and he called on me! Yay! My question was something like "A lot of your material is tragic. When your book is done does it take awhile for you to pull out of it?" (Not a greatly asked question but he got my point. When he reads about something terrible one part of him is like "Oh thats so awful and tragic!" but another side of him is like "Oh great material for the book!". So he doesn't generally struggle with it. Though when he was writing "Garden of Beasts" he had to do a lot of researching of the Third Reich, which was awful. He said he had a bit of "low grade depression" that his family noticed while writing that one. (Hitler and the Nazis will do that to you!)
There is more but this is already the longest post in the history of ever, so I will leave you with some pictures. (That are all weirdly formatted for some reason)