Remembering ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas’ by Jules Verne

In All the Light We Cannot See, the blind French girl Marie-Laure Leblanc is reading the novel in braille, sometimes alone, sometimes to her uncle, and sometimes into the microphone of an old short-wave radio transmitter. Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus become an important motif in the book. For me, the inclusion of Jules Verne’s story was a bit haunting since the novel, and even the Disney movie adaptation released in 1954, was one of my favorite novels. In fact, I think I ended up reading most of Jules Verne’s work.

I knew the story first from the film because, in 1954, I wasn’t capable of reading a Jules Verne book. That’s just as well inasmuch as the first English translations were a mess.

A friend of mine in grade school also loved the movie, so much that we ended up building a miniature Nautilus in his basement where we gave “tours” of various voyages to adults willing to pay five or ten cents depending on the length of the voyage.

I loved the accuracy of short-wave radio scenes in All the Light We Cannot See because I was once a ham radio operator. I built my own transmitter and used a 1940s-era short-wave receiver. It was always fun late at night, talking to people around the world as well as listening to commercial broadcasts originating thousands of miles away. In those days, DXing was popular and we prided ourselves in identifying commercial broadcasts, telling the stations what we heard, and getting a postcard by mail that verified we had heard the station on the date and time we said we did. I finally gave away that old SuperPro short-wave receiver a few years ago to a ham radio operator who was likely to repair it and get it working again.

Best I can tell, the current version of Jules Verne’s novel offered on Amazon might well be the best English translation yet. My feeling is that it’s a lot more accurate than earlier English translations. I know the story only too well because I have lived with it, one way or another, for almost seventy years.

–Malcolm

Jules Verne led me into a long-time interest in science fiction novels which ultimately moved into contemporary fantasy. I write now because of him.

Re-reading ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr

Okay, I finished reading Micky Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly–which ended with a lot of people getting killed–and am now re-reading Anthony Doerr’s book while waiting for my Cormac McCarthy book to arrive. Quite a change of pace moving from rough and tumble private eye stuff to this beautifully written Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

While I enjoy re-reading books, I would prefer reading factory-fresh new books, though neither my budget nor the space in our small house will support the arrival of two or three new books per week. So, like a lot of you (perhaps), I spend more time re-reading than first-time reading.

As an author, I spend time writing, though oddly enough, I write better when the little grey cells (as detective Poirot always said of his brain) are engaged in an interesting book. The books I read are nothing like the books I write; that means I never have to worry about inadvertent plagiarism. As far as I know, nobody writes like me, so I can’t even accidentally borrow another author’s plots or dialogue.

Doerr has a few blurbs about this book on his website including the comment by “Vanity Fair” that ““Anthony Doerr again takes language beyond mortal limits.” We would all like reviews like that. Sadly, books written by small press authors are never seen by reviewers who write comments like that. We are more or less anonymous and invisible, the upside being that few writers are likely to “borrow” plots and dialogue from our books.

Like most authors, I read better than I write. All The Light We Cannot See is a gem, the kind of work I feel fortunate to have on my shelf to I have something to do at an age when, as some bad writer once said, my get up and go as got up and went.

How about you? Do you find yourself reading cereal boxes or re-reading old stuff on your bookshelf more often than reading something new?

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, paranormal, and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories. 

A readers’ advisory for this collection of nine stories forecasts widely scattered ghosts with a chance of rain. Caution is urged at the following uncertain places: an abandoned mental hospital, the woods behind a pleasant subdivision, a small fishing village, a mountain lake, a long-closed theater undergoing restoration, a feared bridge over a swampy river, a historic district street at dusk, the bedroom of a girl who waited until the last minute to write her book report from an allegedly dead author, and the woods near a conjure woman’s house.

In effect from the words “light of the harvest moon was brilliant” until the last phrase “forever rest in peace,” this advisory includes—but may not be limited to—the Florida Panhandle, northwest Montana, central Illinois, and eastern Missouri.