By Will Boast. (Liveright Publishing, 288 pages, $15.95, paperback.)
In the Greek myth, the nymph Daphne is turned into a laurel tree so that she might escape Apollo's ardent, terrifying love. Will Boast's wonderful debut novel, "Daphne," loosely applies that primal tale of fear of intimacy to a modern-day Daphne, a 29-year-old animal research lab supervisor who suffers from a rare and dangerous form of cataplexy that grips her whenever she experiences strong emotion.
Isolated and regimented to protect herself, she compulsively rearranges her apartment's living room and keeps NPR on at a low, soothing level (one of many darkly humorous bits in the story).
When she meets Ollie, a cheerful, Apollo-handsome construction worker who seeks to draw her out into the complicated workaday world of politics, risks and surprises, her malady flares and ebbs as she tries to decide whether to test its power over her.
Though her journey is clearly a metaphor for the hazards of feeling overmuch, especially falling in love, in this fraught life, it also easily stands on its own as a lovely, funny, melancholy modern love story.
Great American Sailing Stories Edited by Tom McCarthy. (Lyons Press, 296 pages, $16.)
Why does the Age of Sail seem so romantic? Perhaps it's the talk of piracy, or the daunting nature of whaling, or simply the fact that ships could go only where — and when — the wind allowed them. This selection of 18 fiction and nonfiction stories fulfills the escapist's yearning to visit a bygone era, but also fulfills a reader's fascination with writing styles.
There is the straightforward solemnity of a first-person account of a mutiny and a chapter from Joshua Slocum's quietly compelling account of his solo circumnavigation on his sailboat, the Spray. Then there are stories from Jack London, Herman Melville and Rudyard Kipling where their mastery of language — each in their distinctive way — illustrates why their works are classics. Here's Melville on the loss of a man overboard: "Then, too, at sea — to use a homely but expressive phrase — you miss a man so much. A dozen men are shut up together in a little bark upon the wide, wide sea, and for months and months see no forms and hear no voices but their own, and one is taken suddenly from then, and they miss him at every turn."
Some of these stories may compel you to seek out the larger works from which they were drawn. Others are enough for a quiet night's reading wrapped in a blanket and sipping some grog, and fighting the impulse to kiss the ground.