#KirkusPrize Shortlist Review: Fathoms

October 12, 2020 Uncategorized 10 ★★★★★

#KirkusPrize Shortlist Review: FathomsTitle: Fathoms: The World in the Whale
Author: Rebecca Giggs
Source: Library
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.

10 Responses to “#KirkusPrize Shortlist Review: Fathoms”

  1. Rennie

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one so much! Basically how you describe some issues you had with it at the beginning — the over the top writing, too much significance and symbolism, and hard to follow writing persisted for me throughout the book. I so wanted to love it but I guess it wasn’t the kind of poetic writing I like. It had some gorgeous parts, and some that really made me think, but I was so disappointed overall. I did really like the parts addressing whether our love of nature and certain animals causes us to endanger them even further though. Great to hear your thoughts on it!

    • DoingDewey

      Yes! I just read your review of this one and I definitely felt the same way you did at the beginning. I’m not sure what made this click for me. At first, it felt like a hard work to read, but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.

  2. Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf

    I’m iffy when it comes to poetic writing, but poetic and precise would work for me. Sounds like I’d need to give myself time to settle in to her style? This sounds like a fascinating book.

    • DoingDewey

      That was my experience! I’d recommend giving it through the second chapter and then maybe DNFing if it’s still not working for you 🙂 It was extremely interesting and if it doesn’t work for you, but the topic appeals, it sounds like Rennie of What’s Nonfiction enjoyed “Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves” a bit better. It doesn’t cover quite the same material, but it sounded like it covers some of the same topics.

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks Helen! That’s such a compliment! One of my favorite parts of being a book blogger is when my review helps encourage someone to pick up a book they might not have otherwise 🙂

  1. Nonfiction Friday - Doing Dewey

    […] for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, where I was excited to see that Fathoms (review) has made the […]

  2. Nonfiction Friday - Doing Dewey

    […] 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction was announced and went to Rebecca Giggs for Fathoms, her wonderful book on whales. Well […]

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