Student: Gerry Golda
Book: Cork Boat
Author: John Pollack
Genre: Nonfiction Memoir
John Pollack wrote a book describing how he found meaning in his life by actually accomplishing his impossible childhood dream. It is a true story about how, as a kid, he was fascinated by boats and boat-building. A young John Pollack decided that since cork as a material cannot sink, he would make a boat entirely out of cork just as soon as he could collect enough corks from bottles. His parents were just not drinking wine fast enough. He started collecting corks when he was six and eventually, with help from friends and cork companies, he crafted a boat out 165,321 corks and 50,000 rubber bands. He went on to sail his vessel down the Douro River in Portugal for seventeen days, one amazing childhood dream accomplished.
Pollack’s book is really about having a dream, no matter how big or small, and actually fulfilling it during a lifetime. It is also about how every person needs to find their own “cork boat” on their journey. People must find their interests and dreams and pursue them. They need to be fascinated and excited by what they undertake so that no matter what anyone says to discourage them, they will never give up. This book retells how John Pollack went as far as leaving his job as a speechwriter in the Clinton administration just so he could chase his own dream.
Throughout history, man has set time after time to succeed while others shout, “Impossible!” President John F. Kennedy had the dream of uniting a nation to accomplish the impossible, to successfully send men to the moon. He greatly supported the space program and gathered our nation together, challenging us. His real hope, was not just about space but about encouraging citizens to think positively about our nation, to not just rely on the government for everything but to aspire to accomplish in life. JFK’s NASA moon project was similar to John Pollack’s cork boat because both had an impossible dream. They both thought they could fulfill their lives and accomplish something they had only dreamed of doing.
Cork Boat is different however, because John Pollack had to follow his dream and push for it to happen, mostly relying only on himself. Sure some of his friends and family helped, but he was basically on his own for most of the actual boatbuilding and cork gathering. President Kennedy had a whole nation to enlist. He was able to give a speech at Rice University in order to motivate people to work together for a common cause. The President had an influential voice that people loved, respected, and listened to. He merely had to be the motivator in convincing people to start working to help their country. John Pollack did hope that his book would inspire individuals in a way that Kennedy inspired a nation, to get American people to enact their dreams. Pollack wanted to be remembered, but he also wanted to honor the memory of his sister who had been lost at a young age, a sister with whom he had shared his cork boat dream. I think that Kennedy really made an impact on John Pollack’s life.
Another man who did something similar was Thor Heyerdahl, a scientist and ethnographer from Norway. Adventurous Heyerdahl had a dream like Pollack. In the 1950’s, Thor Heyerdahl created his own boat out of native South American plants and sailed across the Pacific Ocean to see if ancient Native Americans could have possibly done this themselves with such a primitive vessel. He also explored his biology/cultural theories related to dispersion. Like John Pollack, he took action in order to see out his life’s ambition. Heyerdahl’s experiences differed from Pollack’s because he took on his challenge in the name of science rather than personal achievement. Additionally, this voyage was not just a once in a lifetime experience for Heyerdahl. He made multiple vessels during his career. Both did create a lot of public interest and play on the imagination of many.
Cork Boat is a fantastic book that shares the personal suffering, the great passion and the determination of one man looking for purpose. It has a good balance of stories from John Pollack’s life and also some interesting facts about how boats and corks are made and work. The book also covers a bit of the “Cork Wars” between plastic and real corks. John Pollack keeps readers interested and thinking about their own lives with this quick read. Cork Boat should be read by everyone at some time in their lives, perhaps when they are feeling a bit adrift.