Author: Rebecca Giggs
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: This was beautifully written, thoughtful, and changed the way I see the world.
Unlike my previous shortlist read, which immediately seemed like my kind of book, I was deeply skeptical of Fathoms. I hate stories where bad things happen to animals and, let’s be honest, that describes most human interactions with whales. Whale hunting did play a large and sometimes graphic role in this story. However, I was able to make it through those bits because the author approached them with curiosity and empathy. The author clearly wanted to understand how humans interact with the natural world and whether we can all be moved to preserve it.
This book had to win me over to its writing style, as well as its subject. The author’s writing is beautiful. Her descriptions are poetic, but precise. In the first chapter, the writing felt a bit over-the-top to me though. I thought the author was attaching too much significance or symbolism to parts of whaling history. The poetic language wasn’t adding much here, but it did make the writing harder to follow. The subsequent chapters made much better use of this style. Through discussions of everything from whale song to whale parasites, the author explores big picture questions about conservation and our relationship with the natural world. These more philosophical questions were addressed in ways that profoundly altered the way I see the world. This was partly because the author’s poetic language allowed her to seamlessly pull together ideas that initially seemed unrelated.
A while back, I shared an article categorizing books based on whether they cover a single topic or build a framework for thinking. In less skilled hands, this book would have fallen into the first category, narrowly focusing on the topic of whales. Instead, the author looks at big picture questions. She explores our impact on the planet; revises her understanding of pollution and conservation; and thinks about what motivates people to care about particular animal species. Here are a few of my favorites from the thought-provoking questions she explores:
- Why does our love of nature sometimes lead us to preserve it and at other times, cause us to endanger nature by getting too close?
- Why do we think of whales as singing, instead of talking or moaning?
- Do we need to preserve enough of a species to allow them to fill their ecological role and to preserve diversity that makes them adaptable? More than are needed for mere survival of the species?
These questions and more really did alter my understanding of nature and our place in it. If this book and A Furious Sky are any guide, I can’t wait to read the rest of the books on the Kirkus prize short list. Right now, this one would probably get my vote, because of the beautiful writing, the thoughtful analysis, and the real impact it could have on the world.