Whether the author is opining on mass extinctions, the importance of plankton, the history of lighthouses, or the epicurean...

SHARK DRUNK

THE ART OF CATCHING A LARGE SHARK FROM A TINY RUBBER DINGHY IN A BIG OCEAN

Accomplished Norwegian historian, journalist, and photographer Strøksnes invites readers into the fantastical ocean environment of his quest to capture a Greenland shark.

More than just a chronicle of two men (the author and his artist friend, Hugo Aasjord) discussing their surroundings as they drift along off the coast of Norway, the narrative follows the pair’s lofty goal of snaring one of the world’s largest beasts from their small rubber boat. A few of the strange qualities of their prey include its ability to dive to more than 4,000 feet, “sawblade teeth” and “suctioning lips that ‘glue’ larger prey to its mouth while chewing,” and poisonous flesh that smells like urine. They can also live to be 400 years old and weigh more than a ton. During their endeavor, whether on the ocean or sidelined on the rugged land due to inhospitable weather, Strøksnes and Aasjord tackled a variety of existential questions while contemplating the magnificent, complex mysteries of the ocean. Their conversations range over subjects as diverse as mythology, poetry, history, literature, and science, all interspersed with their observations. In the hands of a less skilled storyteller, readers may have felt burdened by the amount of information, but Strøksnes handles it well. Following the philosophical proclamation that “life cannot exist without death, and the cycle of life is what keeps the planet in harmony,” the author explains how the men planned to use the decomposed carcass of a Scottish bull as bait, after which he provides an enlightening vignette on the history of that hardy breed. While tracking down the rotting carcass, the author also describes the surrounding countryside, including the ancient sacrificial altars he encountered.

Whether the author is opining on mass extinctions, the importance of plankton, the history of lighthouses, or the epicurean treat of boiled cod tongues, readers will happily devour this smorgasbord of delights.

Pub Date: June 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49348-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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