The Joys of Browsing: Discovering Joan Druett’s Hen Frigates

I love browsing in bookstores and finding unexpected treats. For years I was weighed down by required reading or the books I thought I “should” be reading. (Reminder: Don’t should on yourself!) I almost lost the ability to clear my mind and just browse. Can you imagine?

Last night I arrived in Manchester, VT for Booktopia. As soon as I unpacked,  I meandered down to the Northshire Bookstore to browse. Of course.

In their used section I found a book that I didn’t know I needed: Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Ninteenth-Century Women at Sea by Joan Druett.

I started reading it standing there in front of the shelf and couldn’t put it down. So, Reader, I bought it.

From the publisher:
In the tradition of The Midwife’s Tale and Pioneer Women — an intimate portrait of the courageous wives of sailing ship captains in the last century, told for the first time in their own words, through journals and letters, Maritime historian Joan Druett takes us into the wildly colorful, dangerous, and most of all romantic world of seafaring women who left friends and families behind to join their husbands at sea.

On board a “hen frigate” (any ship with the captain’s wife aboard), a woman grappled with loneliness and boredom as she strove to create a home on a wind-driven freighter at sea. A deft historical interpreter, Druett interweaves the first-person accounts of these remarkable wives and daughters with the lyrical narrative of a sea journey — from home port to foreign port. The true stories of what they encountered on their often amazing voyages — from romantic, moonlit nights on deck to harrowing encounters with sea-sickness, storms, and even pirates — are more fascinating that any sailor’s yarn.

Lavishly illustrated with authentic seascape and maritime portraits, this path-breaking volume transports readers back to the golden age of sail. Hal Roth, author of After Fifty Thousand Miles, heralds Hen Frigates as “wonderful writing and research about American heroines of the sea”.

Joan Druett’s prose is so smooth and the content is outstanding. I was hooked and so this is my #FridayReads today. What’s yours?

p.s. Druett is a New Zealand historian who specializes in maritime history. Much of her research is done in the U.S. and she’s written a bunch of books, both fiction and nonfiction. I feel an author crush coming on!


  1. What a serendipitous discovery! This does look like a fascinating book — I've added it to my TBR list.

    I laughed at the phrase “don't should yourself”… that's a great expression. Sometimes I find myself doing just that, worrying so much about what I ought to be reading that I don't take time to read whatever just happens to come along. But I'm lucky enough to work just a few blocks from a used bookstore, so a little lunchtime jaunt down to the shop usually cures the problem! 🙂

  2. I haven't had much reading time lately and just got into chapter 2, but its still a good read. Look forward to hearing what you think whenever you get around to it. Lunchtime browsing in a used bookstore sounds like the perfect way to break up the work hours!

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