Harper: The Snakes by Sadie Jones

How to Build a Boat: A Father, His Daughter, and the Unsailed Sea

Jonathan Gornall has been boat- and water-obsessed for many decades, but he is the first to admit that, as a longtime chair-bound freelance journalist, his DIY skills are nil. The idea of him building anything from scratch is unlikely. But Gornall is also giddy with joy at becoming a father again at age 58. As he seeks a project sufficient to show his new daughter his love and hope for her life, the idea feels natural, even obvious: he will build her a boat.

How to Build a Boat: A Father, His Daughter, and the Unsailed Sea is a love letter to that small child, Phoebe. It is a memoir of a life on and off of water and a study of the history, art and science of boatbuilding. Gornall considers his first sea voyage (in utero, with an unwed mother who consistently claims he's ruined her life), his first experiences with boats (at boarding school) and his significant time on the ocean. Gornall has twice attempted to row across the Atlantic, with enormous press and personal pressure, and twice failed: these disappointments weigh heavily on him and contribute to the urgency to get this boating effort right.

Gornall's tone is drily funny and always self-deprecating. His research, however, is as serious as his journalistic background would suggest. The result is a deeply moving intersection of the personal with the practical. This is not quite a how-to manual, but readers with aspirations to fashion their own boat would have a headstart upon reading. If the boat is a gift to Phoebe, this book is another. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia