**spoiler alert** Quite often, I find a book that interests me enough to pick it up even though I'm not quite sure what to expect. And every once in a**spoiler alert** Quite often, I find a book that interests me enough to pick it up even though I'm not quite sure what to expect. And every once in a while, I end up finding one that makes me pause and admire just how good it is. It happened with "Lamb" by Christopher Moore, it happened with "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel, and it has happened with "The Devil's Teeth" by Susan Casey. Granted, this story isn't a story, but an account of a real-life pursuit of great white sharks - and it is that tale that captured my interest and held it fast from start to finish. What makes that remarkable is because this is a documentary about studying sharks, not a dramatic novel about being attacked by them.
I discovered this book in Outside magazine and their description:
"Though they lie just 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco, the ragged, desolate Farallon Islands are home to the thousands of sea lions and seals that make good eating for one of the world's largest concentrations of great white sharks. In The Devil's Teeth ... journalist Susan Casey ... recounts several visits to the foreboding, fog-shrouded archipelago, where she followed a pair of biologists—two of only a handful of humans permitted to visit the protected islands each year—as they tagged and studied the mysterious 17-foot predators." - From Outside Magazine - June 2005
It was enough to earn it a spot on my Amazon wish list. It didn't sit there long, because when our vacation came up, I strangely picked this as one of my beach reads.*
The author, a contributor to magazines like Time, Esquire and Sports Illustrated, as well as editor of Sports Illustrated Women is no stranger to environmental stories, nor to being where "safe and sound" are a distant memory. But her experiences in the Farallon Islands, which float off with terrible menace less than 20 miles from the coast of San Francisco, are what captured my attention. The Farallones live up their nickname, craggy, jutting pieces of rock which seem to attract lethal storms as well as they have accumulated ship wrecks on their hidden and deadly reefs. But it is what lies under the surf that is even more compelling, a darker secret that haunts those who know the waters well - it is a hunting ground for dozens of great white sharks.
Casey had a fascination with the sharks from the first time she arrived on the island on a special pass for her story for Time magazine (the Farallones are a National Wildlife Reserve, and only a handful of scientists are allowed to visit and/or stay). She went to interview some of the scientists living on the islands - namely Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson - but what she found was the same addiction that fueled their migratory return to the islands year after year, despite the sometimes hellish conditions and antiquated living arrangements. The rest of her story tells you how she came to share their passion and makes one feel that it might be worth it to go through the same ordeals to find the scientific inner sanctum they enjoyed.
Like any good documentary, the book begins with a professional and mannered account; however, it is later, when the tale goes deeper and leaves the clinical detachment behind that it really gains momentum, becoming a journal of personal narrative that leaves behind the journalist and introduces the adventurer. As the chapters move along, we learn some science, we find ourselves understanding these scientists who brave some of the worst conditions of any U.S. research facility, and we discover how one of nature's most feared predators could become a quest for someone to defy the law, the elements and sometimes even good sense. Casey's passion is evident in the writing, similar in style to Jon Krakauer or Sebastian Junger, and delivered with the equal eloquence tinged with the experience of actually having been there.
Great white sharks are the main focus of this story - or rather, the study of these massive predators is - but it delves into so much more. We learn about the history of the island, much of it bloody and dangerous from more than just the fearsome shores; we also learn about the scientists would would risk gales, touch-and-go supplies and a 'home' that would be considered squalid if it weren't in a national wildlife reserve. The main focus might be the sharks and their habits - things that have never been discovered before these teams of scientists gave up the luxury of the mainland for a fall and winter vigil watching for sharks gunning for the many seals that live on the island. But we also see a larger slice of life, as we hear about the rare bird sightings, bat migration and the studies of the life-and-death cycle of small shorebirds like murres, murrelets and puffins as they fight their way past a legion of killer gulls looking to feed their own chicks. This is not a dry documentary, nor is it a glory-of-the-shark story. Casey gets into the fact that life can be ugly regardless of whether it is by feather or scale, and she doesn't hide the fact that sometimes our sensibilities can be shocked by what nature considers a normal course of life. It can be gruesome, it can be sad but it is never boring.
Aside from the studies and sharks, Casey's tale covers not only that nature that surrounded her, but also the trials she endured to be there. She gained special dispensation not once but twice, but her addiction fueled another attempt to see more, learn more of what was a hidden story to most of the world - eventually putting her into harm's way that cost her a boat and nearly her life. She isn't perfect - and her own failures in the face of this longing to learn more, see more of the sharks are given up freely. But they pale next to the story she has to tell.
This book has appeal to anyone who likes to read about adventure and nature - you'll find great writing, compelling story, great information and a story that covers all of the bases. I found myself with the same longing she exhibited, a desire to see the sharks, to speak with the scientist, to live in the bug-infested house that stands against all storms as a lone sentinel on the island. I'll never make it, but I have gotten close enough to smell the salt in the air and hear the crash of wave and teeth as another shark feeds along the Devil's Teeth....more
A long time ago, I came across a story that my grandmother recommended. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely hadn’t expected to read what woA long time ago, I came across a story that my grandmother recommended. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely hadn’t expected to read what would become my favorite book. The story begins as many do, giving background on the area that will provide the setting for our tale, a history as reference, but quickly catches up with the main characters and the supporting cast. And we quickly learn of Johnny and Owen Meany, two friends who forge an eternal bond despite their obvious mismatches - physical, social, cultural and religious differences. And a tragic consequence of a baseball game.
GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER. MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD'S INSTRUMENT.
Big words for an eleven-year old who can almost sit in his friend's lap. But Owen is so self-assured that whether John believes him or not, he knows that there is something special about Owen. They all know that there is something different, but no one but Johnny knows how different - or special - Owen really is.
Through their years together, Owen grows closer to Johnny than a simple friend: He becomes a brother, an aide in the search for Johnny's unnamed father, an influence that will guide Johnny's throughout his life. From helping to search for the identity of Johnny's father to keeping him out of the Vietnam war, Owen has written the script for Johnny's life although Johnny never realizes it until the end of the story - only then does he know that Owen knew the script for his own life as well, but never revealed it.
Each action in his short life was a test to help him fulfill the one part of his destiny that he couldn't see - the final act. Johnny faithfully helps Owen in these tasks, things that he can't possibly know the reasons for. But to Owen, even Johnny's mother's death had a purpose. Everything had a purpose to Owen. Even if he was the only one to seem to know why things happened the way they did.
He had sunk the shot in under four seconds! "YOU SEE WHAT A LITTLE FAITH CAN DO?" said Owen Meany. The brain-damaged janitor was applauding. "SET THE CLOCK TO THREE SECONDS!" Owen told him. "Jesus Christ!" I said. "IF WE CAN DO IT IN UNDER FOUR SECONDS, WE CAN DO IT IN UNDER THREE," he said. "IT JUST TAKES A LITTLE MORE FAITH." "It takes more practice," I told him irritably. "FAITH TAKES PRACTICE," said Owen Meany
Irving uses Owen Meany to analyze faith, not only as in a single religion sense, spirituality as a whole. Despite everything that he endures, Owen Meany never loses his faith, his knowledge that he is an INSTRUMENT OF GOD, as he reminds Johnny on many occasions. It is this faith, through the threat of expulsion, through the lean & hard teen years, and into his enlistment into the army, that keeps Owen going, knowing that he has a mission that he has to fulfill, and not much time to do it. Along the way, he changes Johnny, filling him with confidence and self-reliance and even religion, infusing all of those characteristics that Owen has an abundance of and is loathe to leave behind.
Irving's narrative is uniquely captivating, as is the way that he chooses to depict characters, to breath life into them. Although Owen and Johnny are by far the main characters, they live among a expansive cast, who all have their own place in this tapestry. Owen touches everyone in some small way, leading up to his grand fulfillment.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorite books, and many other's that I have lent it to have found a fondness for the story as well. Owen grabs you the way he grabs the other characters in the novel. There is something so strong, so compelling about him that you have to find out what is going to happen.
"NOW I KNOW WHY YOU HAD TO BE HERE," Owen said to me. "DO YOU SEE WHY?" he asked me. "Yes," I said. "REMEMBER ALL OF OUR PRACTICING?" he asked me. "I remember," I said.