Notable New Books

Stikky Night Skies By Laurence Holt

Maybe because learning the night sky has the potential to be so complicated – azimuths, declinations, views that change hourly and vary from the viewer’s position on Earth – the best books on the subject are the simple ones. Recall H.A. Rey’s 1954 classic Find the Constellations, which offered the reader Curious George-style imagery.

The essence of the calmly confident Stikky Night Skies approach is embodied in its subhead: “Learn 6 Constellations, 4 Stars, a Planet, a Galaxy, and How to Navigate at Night – in One Hour, Guaranteed.”

Each page is an illustration of a portion of the night sky, accompanied by a sentence on how to see certain stars and shapes. You won’t learn the entire sky, but you’ll be an expert on the part the book offers – and be hungry for more.

Laurence Holt Books; 236 pages; $12.

A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea By David Vann

A Mile Down is about failure and sadness and shame and the ability of the natural elements, coupled with soaring dreams and ambition, to bring about such losses. The author bought a 90-foot steel hulk in Turkey and proceeded to dump money – hundreds of thousands of dollars – into the project, only to suffer further when the vessel finally was completed.

Everyone who’s ever dreamed of chucking the shore-bound life is afraid of what can go wrong, and this book is a testament to the reality of those fears: financial ruin, heartbreak, danger, and sundry other joys of the sea and ships. The author, haunted throughout these pages by the suicide of his father, who had pursued a similar project when he was about the same age, is a gifted writer who offers his compelling story as all he has left. (The vessel eventually sank in mile-deep water.) Yet, despite the grim subject matter, the book maintains a thread of hope, which makes it an inspiration, especially for any sailor who’s been lost and found at sea.

Thunder’s Mouth Press; 234 pages; $14.95.