Wednesday, December 17, 2008

jimmy buffett "a pirate looks at fifty" book review

jimmy buffett's "a pirate looks at fifty," is more than 10 years old and buffet has now eased into his 60's. it's a long book, coming in at 420 pages. but even if it had a 100 fewer pages, it would still be a long book. don't get the wrong impression, i did enjoy the book. but, anyone venturing to read it, ought set aside a good chunk of time. it took me 3 weeks of commuting time (rides to and from the city on the metronorth) to get through, and i finished last night while i proctored the final exam for my grad students.

"pirate looks at fifty" is really two books, an autobiography and a travelogue. the autobiography is awesome. i found buffett's recounting of his childhood in the south, how he learned to play guitar (and become a musician), his hardscrabble days at college(s), and the early days of his career riveting stuff. the travel stories, on the other hand, were pedestrian. one story about the fish that got away is fine - but a dozen of them - too much. pages of what he carries in his flight bag? way too much.

but fishing and flying are this guy's passions (outside of family), so it's easy to forgive the non-existent editing when he lashed together the bits, pieces, and minutia of the three week trip he and his family took across central and south america (plus the caribbean) to celebrate his 50th birthday - christmas, 1996. he loves to sail, loves to fly, and loves the combination so much that he even owns a seaplane (in addition to a garden-variety jet). buffet taught himself celestial navigation on the off-chance that modern electronic wonders (and gps especially) failed him mid-voyage!

while i don't consider myself a parrot head (being a dead head is work enough), i do enjoy buffett's music. he's a great entertainer, and that skill carried over to his story telling. buffett has a breezy and, at times, self-deprecating writing style that keeps the reader interested. what else accounts for me getting through all those "damn the fish got away again" stories. maybe because i loved to fish so much as a kid growing up in sheepshead bay.

the book is (seriously) too long - and he did fess up to that at the outset, "i don't know when to stop telling the story!" it's ironic, however, that he related the genesis of this book as a trade-off to not having another work of fiction in him at the time: "i wasn't able to take on the task of a big book. i didn't know what i was going to write about, if anything at all." he did wind up writing a big (and enjoyable) book after all.


AnthonyP said...

Well, I am a Parrot Head, big time. So, I am psyched to see that you read "A Pirate Looks at Fifty". It certainly is a long book, and a good one, but in my opinion it falls far short in quality compared to his works of fiction (and I suppose I you somewhat pointed out, perhpas not having another work of fiction in him at the time had some impact on the quality of this book).

As a big JB fan, there is no way I can even put "A Pirate Looks at Fifty" in the same universe as "Tales from Margaritaville", "A Salty Piece of Land", and "Where is Joe Merchant", and, especially "Jolly Mon".

I am looking forward to reading his latest piece of fiction, "Swine Not".

rundangerously said...


i wish could have seen buffett at jones beach last summer (but those $100+ ticket prices were nut)!

until he swings by here again, we gotta throw back some landshark lagers - or maybe even track down some margaritas!

johnking said...

Another big JB fan here. Phins to the left! That's the only JB book I've yet to read. My reading has been lacking, I've been hacking away at BOOM!. I've got a caribbean soul I can barely control...figures I am reading your blog and have radiomargaritaville playin at the same time!

rundangerously said...

yikes john, you just reminded me i need to drum up a bq asap - so i can hang out w/you next april!!

johnking said...

hahaha best get on that...on my run yesterday i was thinking about all the free food and stacy's pita chips I can get at the expo.