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The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  234 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Surfing in Far Rockaway, romantic obsession, and Moby-Dick converge in this winning and refreshing memoir

Justin Hocking lands in New York hopeful but adrift-he's jobless, unexpectedly overwhelmed and disoriented by the city, struggling with anxiety and obsession, and attempting to maintain a faltering long-distance relationship. As a man whose brand of therapy has always b
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Graywolf Press
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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Larry H
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Having just finished Justin Hocking's memoir about his obsession with surfing and Moby Dick, and his struggles to find direction in his life and overcome his addiction to being in relationships, I feel much like I'd imagine one does after a good round of surfing—breathless and exhilarated, simultaneously.

Justin Hocking was a West Coast kid, outdoorsy, constantly obsessed with motion, an obsession he fed first through break dancing and finally through skateboarding. He became obsessed with He
Feb 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Read My Life in Middlemarch and you’ll want to read Eliot’s Middlemarch . Read Reading Lolita in Tehran and you’ll want to read Lolita . Read The Great Floodgates of the WonderWorld and you’ll want to read Moby-Dick . I love when books encourage you to read other books.

And now I must pause to hang my head in shame and admit that I’ve never read Moby-Dick.

It’s easy to see why a counter narrative of Moby-Dick is included in this memoir because like Ishmael, Hocking was “anoth
Julie Ehlers
Mar 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
4/24/14: I now feel prepared to explain why this book was such a major disappointment to me.

First and foremost, the writing was just not very good. Hocking set himself a pretty difficult task: somehow integrating his obsessive love of skateboarding, surfing, and Moby-Dick into a cohesive memoir. It doesn't work, and the book takes on an everything-but-the-kitchen sink feeling as he pads it out with talk about New York, his family, his past jobs, past relationships, etc., etc. There's a lengthy s
Aaron McQuiston
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: graywolf
I do not remember entering a contest to receive "The Floodgates of the Wonderworld," but somehow I won and an advance copy was sitting surprisingly at my doorstep one day. The very same day, the author, Justin Hocking, friend requested me on Facebook. Of course I had to accept. It was a pretty good day and it gave me motivation to start reading and give a review. That's the nicest thing a guy can do, right?

It took me a while to get through this book. I read the first half on the first day, and I
Cameron Brown
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Memoirs aren't my usual literary bread and butter, but I'm extremely glad that I had the privilege of reading Justin Hocking's "The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld" as part of the GoodReads FirstReads program. The way Hocking weaves his personal narrative with discussion on Melville, Moby-Dick, and the history of surfing is surprisingly fulfilling on a philosophical level, and the information provides valuable context for Hocking's specific passions and problems.
Upon finishing the memoir, I
Mar 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
This book was just great overall. The writing is stellar, especially at the beginning, where the content and form are so rich, and the language is lovingly crafted to reflect the author's dual focus on Moby Dick and surfing, as he plumbs the dark waters of his own consciousness during a sort of third-life crisis. The taut storytelling and short chapters kept me turning pages, and although this is a very deep book, it (like Cheryl Strayed's Wild) read quickly and easily. There's a strong sense th ...more
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, library-books, nyc
This memoir, which consists of named chapters/linked pieces, some of which were previously published as standalone works, covers a lot of territory. It's about obsessions, how they can shape a person's life, how they can give structure/meaning/purpose, but also about the obvious flip-side of that: about how their all-consuming nature can be negative, can be a way of avoiding everything else. Hocking examines his own serial obsessions (skateboarding, surfing, Moby Dick, particular women/relations ...more
Aug 31, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a tough one. I appreciated the author's self-awareness and willingness to show vulnerability. He has real skill in some of the technical aspects of writing, from navigating a plot heavy in flash-back and forwards to painting deep and dynamic images of his internal and external experiences. But at times a stray detail, a little comment (like when he mentions that the kids he looked after couldn't beat his record for breakdance spins) hit me the wrong way--as though he was bragging. Even s ...more
Feb 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received this book as part of a first-reads giveaway and enjoyed the authorial craftsmanship of Hocking. He takes a chance by using his love of Moby-Dick as a guiding torch through the often dark night of his memoir. The chapters are sometimes only one page and not always arranged chronologically but I feel this arrangement works well to convey both artful sketches and impressions of a wide-ranging array of topics: Basquiat, Schnabel, Scientology, surfing, skateboarding, family history, relati ...more
May 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book had promise, both in its premise and in certain aspects of its content. Like the author, I've surfed often at Rockaway, love Moby Dick, and can relate to the idea that obsession is a link between surfing and that great novel. Had this book been a collection of essays on surfing and Moby dick, I probably would have liked it. However, what came in between was quite boring and self-indulgent, and it ended up reading like an unedited journal more than a memoir. Much of the book deals with ...more
Chris Notionless
Jun 21, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No One
Frankly the book reads like a college research paper. Each chapter randomly starts over with some related, but non-sequential topics related to either surfing or the author's excessive "task" to "survive" in NYC. Sounds promising but I assure you that it is not. Clearly the author has "issues" for lack of a better term that need to be "processed" thru this book -- that's all expected given the term "memoir" on the cover. However, are these realistic difficulties or just some conjured up nonsense ...more
Mar 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
More to say later, but this book was a wonderful companion while laid up with a sprained ankle, taking a sick day. It was as though an old friend came over and instead of books and ice cream, he brought endless stories and enthusiasms---for Moby Dick, Melville, surfing, skateboarding, unrequited relationships, and an urge to connect. I wish I could have met Justin when he lived in Brooklyn. Maybe I'd have explored the Rockaways sooner, just as he would probably say, all in good time. Go out and ...more
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Hocking balances his obsession with surfing and the personal, physical challenge that accompanies it with anxieties and the exploration of his obsession with relationships. And, he uses Moby Dick and Herman Melville's biography as the stitching that holds it all together.

The book also lurched me into my own obsession about place: Hocking explores the idea that sometimes we need to live in a place that cracks us open even while yearning to live in a place that's more intuitive and appropriate to
Jan 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Haven't read a book this satisfying in a long time. Memoirs seem pretty self-indulgent, but this one threaded Hocking's various obsessions together so gracefully. ...more
Feb 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2014
Moving memoir of dislocation, depression, surfing, and literature. And the structural risks, including nods to Moby-Dick, pay off.
Apr 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Not a bit of pretense in this despite the Melville lines. Perfect for those still healing.
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Here are all the reasons. First, I found and bought my author signed copy in Seaview Washington - at the funky quirky Sou-western resort. I was there attending my nephew’s wedding at this charming little spot on the very beautiful coast of Washington with It’s moody beach. With my family - who rarely gather any more. And here on our last day kicking around in a hundred year old lodge - milling about with coffee and reliving the previous day’s nuptials my last path through the ...more
Tessa Tito
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lyrical, experimental, brave, intelligent, and captivating. Hocking brilliantly transcends and defies the trite style of overly confessional "tell-all" memoirs. Instead, Hocking uses a collage-style of writing that weaves his personal narrative of his life, relationships, traumatic experiences and depression with thoughtful meditations on the environment, skateboarding, NYC, psychology, depression, recovery, art, and of course Moby Dick. Fear not for those of us who have not yet delved into Moby ...more
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-reading
This is an epic tale of journeying--out to sea and across the country, through arts, literature, skating, and surfboarding. It is smart and sensitive and above all, engaging. From dark depths of anxiety and despair and into the arms of love and wonder and light, Hocking's trip is far from easy or predictable. ...more
Carye Bye
Apr 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Before this book came out I had been exposed to it in incubation: I had read short stories (in chap book form) or heard short sections read out-loud at readings as Justin was working on it. It's a beautifully designed book, and short diverse-style chapters and lots of intriguing references and intertwines and I knew not much about surfing or living in New York so that was also interesting to me. I know Justin a little in real life post his NY period and he's a lovely person, and when I called hi ...more
Donna Davis
Feb 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Melville enthusiasts; surfers; young people going through personal transitions or crises
Hocking is a surfer and skateboard enthusiast. When he moves to New York City, he is amazed (as was I when I read his memoir) to learn that there is really good surfing there. It's surely not among the things for which New York is known. But there is a problem with the ocean there, and there are other problems Hocking faces as well.

At this point, I should say thank you for the free read; I got my copy through the First Reads program.

The memoir traces his personal quest as he moves
Oct 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I like the Melville undercurrent in Hocking's book. He ties it to his own history, American history, the history of surfers, art history, and the anxiety of inhabiting the world.

Of course it all circles back to his own struggle to "grow up" and feel comfortable about who he is and where he is and where he is going and who and where he has been. The Times recently had and op-ed piece about the lack of adult behavior in those who have left the years of adolescence far behind. Hocking fits well int
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
It's an odd thing to rate a memoir. This is someone's life, so for me the rating is more about the story as a whole and less about syntax and literary devices. Yes, this kind of went all over the place and felt a wee bit self-indulgent at times, but I thought it reflected the author's state of mind, and for the most part the tangents were woven in fairly nicely (save perhaps the lengthy talk of Basquiat and Julian Schnabel). I don't surf, but I was drawn into his descriptions of what it meant to ...more
Craig Siegel
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Daniel Duane's recommendation on the back cover encouraged me to purchase this while scanning the Surfing section at B&N's flagship store for a taste of summer (Caught Inside is a favorite of mine, and the surfing genre in general is always a go-to even though I am in no way any good at surfing).

As a 32 year old North Brooklyn resident and commuter to the cube farms of Manhattan, who grew up within spitting distance of the water and has spent numerous summer days trekking to Rockaway just to ge
Andrew Brown
May 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Floodgates is a book about Moby-Dick, about surfing, about relationships, and trying to make it New York. So it sets itself a daunting task by trying to be so many things at once, and that may be where it falters. The book starts off engaging and intriguing, then the narrator's life takes an understandable turn for the worse and it takes him some time to get out. What's unfortunate is that the narrator's path out isn't entirely clear, with motivations difficult to discern simply because they're ...more
Katie Bliss
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Really great memoir that was equal parts memoir/surfing history/Moby Dick and Herman Melville/New York/Portland - all balanced out and described well without going into too much detail in any one of those areas. I felt really bad for the author and his terrible struggle with anxiety, trying to find peace through a Unitarian church, spirituality, a support group for those with relationship obsessions, and most of all through the ocean. Most of all, this book was just well written with great flow ...more
Eric Graham
May 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 26, 2015 added it
Touching modern memoir of a searching soul who winds up in New York and becomes addicted to surfing at Rockaway Beach. He compares his life to the themes in Moby Dick (another obsession of his). Along the way he examines another obsession of his - relationships with women. He can't seem to get out of his own way to happiness and fulfillment until he hits his personal bottoms - and then finds the inner strength to follow his dream to live a peaceful life in the great outdoors of Oregon.

Maybe a li
Oct 07, 2015 rated it liked it
I have not read Moby Dick and this literary memoir has increased the probability that I will read it at some point. I am given to understand that Moby Dick is a tale of the sea about one man's unhealthy obsession with a whale. This memoir is also (somewhat) a tale of the sea which employs some of the themes of Moby Dick--but which mostly deals with the lack of a driving purpose in a man's life. I appreciated the author's everyday struggles as well has his own personal obsession with Melville's g ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
ahhhh, lovely. For those of you who do not know, I've fallen completely head over heals in love.. with Brooklyn. So, set the story of finding your way into your "wild, dangerous, beautiful life in Brooklyn, frame it with a Jungian reading of Moby Dick, and throw in a little swimming and a whole lot of surfing, and, well, obviously I'm smitten. It doesn't hurt that Hocking is a beautiful writer with a beautiful story to tell. I look forward to more writing from him. ...more
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