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The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir

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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 been motion, whether in a skate park or on a snowdrift, Hocking needs an outlet for his restlessness. Then he spies his first New York surfer hauling a board to the subway, and its not long before he's a member of the vibrant and passionate surfing community at Far Rockaway. But in the wake of a traumatic robbery incident, the dark undercurrents of his ocean-obsession pull him further and further out on his own night sea journey.

With Moby-Dick as a touchstone, and interspersed with interludes on everything from the history of surfing to Scientology's naval ties to the environmental impact of the Iraq War, The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld is a multifaceted and enduring modern odyssey from a memorable and whip-smart new literary voice.

256 pages, Paperback

First published February 11, 2014

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Justin Hocking

25 books6 followers

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5 stars
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88 (36%)
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63 (26%)
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19 (7%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
March 17, 2014

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 Herman Melville's classic novel and really felt it spoke to him, both about his own struggles and the struggles of the world around him. He did painstaking research into Melville's life and career, and read everything he could get his hands on that has been written about the book. (He also has a list of others obsessed with the book, including Jackson Pollock and Laurie Anderson.)

When Hocking moved to New York, he was struggling with the inevitable end of a long-distance relationship and trying to figure out what to do with his life when he spotted someone on the subway holding a surfboard. Shortly thereafter he became obsessed with surfing anywhere and anytime he could, and found himself among a rapidly growing circle of friends who all shared the same love for the sport and the feelings it provoked. As his life grew more and more chaotic and confusing, Hocking could only find peace amidst the waves.

But surfing wasn't enough to make him content. As he started to wonder whether he'd ever find true love, and then began realizing that perhaps he had problems with being in romantic relationships, his life became more emotionally anguished. And on top of that, he grew increasingly unhappy with his job and with much of the culture of New York City, yet found himself incapable of making a decision whether to move to Portland, Oregon, or stay in New York, where he can surf whenever he wants to. On a visit to his family, a violent encounter throws him even more in turmoil, and he equates his struggles and the feelings they cause with those of Captain Ahab.

This is a meticulously researched, emotionally poignant, fascinating, and sometimes humorous book, populated with a tremendously memorable and endearing cast of characters. While at times the book veers off into strange tangents involving Hocking's family (in an effort to illustrate that his obsession with the water may very well be genetic), and he does rant a bit about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, I was completely compelled by Hocking's memoir. Considering I know nothing about surfing or skateboarding, and have only read Moby Dick once, I was surprised how utterly hooked I was by this book. I think Hocking would be a fascinating person to talk with, and I would love to watch some of the people he wrote with, even from afar, just to see if their reality matched what I saw in my head.

I don't read a lot of memoirs; it takes a compelling subject and a talented writer to reel me in. The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld succeeds in both categories. It's unlike anything I've read, which means it will stay in my head even more than it would on its literary merits alone.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews593 followers
April 22, 2014
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 “another disgruntled young New Yorker with a deep spiritual longing for the sea.” Like Herman Melville, Hocking moved to New York—from Colorado—to write. When he found himself having to cope with his shortcomings, surfing became his sedative:
In the city I’m plagued by worry and regrets, credit card bills, loneliness, but these all fall away out in the water at Rockaway, where, at dusk, schools of tiny fish flash beneath the surface, then make what seems to me miraculous leaps above the water, tens of hundreds of them, arcing over the rippled gray glaze of the Atlantic before splashing back in like silver rain.

And like Melville, New York came crashing down upon him.

Multiple pathogens, this is how Hockings chooses to describe his struggle. The onset of multiple infectious agents. The book delves into the psychoanalysis of such a theory. You’ve probably dated a male or female like Hocking and still haven’t gotten close to this kind of personal analysis that makes you go, aha!

The chapters read like separate essays, disconnected in story yet interconnected through subject matter. There are quite a few characters whose inclusion seem to mirror the narrator's want of motion—you don’t stick with some of these characters long enough to really get a connection. However, if surfing interests you, or, if like me you find the psychology of obsession and anxiety intriguing, you will enjoy this memoir.
This is what the hype’s about: perfect, sun-shimmering sets off head-high rollers coming in smooth, sixteen-second intervals, the ocean an endless stretch of blue-gray corduroy, the waves scrolling in silver and then peeling evenly into whiteness.

Now off to find a used copy of Moby-Dick

*When I went to add this memoir to my “to-reads” on GoodReads, I noticed a contest for free copies, entered the contest, won a copy, and voilà, this is the result.*
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,396 followers
April 24, 2014
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 section about Julian Schnabel and Basquiat leading up to the fact that Hocking once went to Schnabel's beach house (um, who cares?). It's definitely possible that a better writer might have succeeded in making the book's core themes work, but Hocking is not up to the challenge. His writing isn't horrible by any means, but neither is it very interesting or special, and that made reading it pretty slow going for me. When I put it down, I had trouble picking it up again. The enthusiasm just wasn't there.

A lot of the book was also about Hocking's depression, and while I can certainly sympathize, the way he wrote about it made me uncomfortable. He conflated himself with a number of other, more famous, writers who had experienced depression and even committed suicide, and it had the effect of fetishizing or even glamorizing the condition. I didn't like that one bit. At times Hocking also creates parallels between himself and Melville, which made me uncomfortable for a different reason--namely, I thought it was really egotistical--and quite a stretch--to liken himself and his book to one of the great American classics and its author.

I'll tell you another thing that got under my skin. There's actually a scene in this book where Hocking, in despair, lies on his bathroom floor and hears a godlike voice speaking to him from inside his head. It is very, very similar to a scene that opens the book Eat, Pray, Love, and it's not the only similarity between these two memoirs by writers who both had major challenges concerning their relationships, their spirituality, and their mental health. But while Eat, Pray, Love has been derided as self-indulgent chick lit, this book, published by Graywolf, has apparently been deemed "literary." This in spite of the fact that this book is nowhere near as interesting and well-written as EPL, and about ten thousand times more self-pitying.

Hocking also does an extremely terrible job of writing the women. The male characters are all fully drawn, but the women are all just generic beautiful goddesses who (yay!) have the same hobbies Hocking does. Maybe seeing women as complete people who are separate from him should be the next thing he works on in his twelve-step relationship-addiction program?

Finally, there were some pretty astonishing errors in this book. I'm not just talking about writing "chaplin" when you mean "chaplain" (copy editors are your friend)--I'm talking about misquoting Bartleby the Scrivener's most famous line over and over again (in a book about Melville, no less!) and writing an ostentatious Good Friday observation that two days earlier everyone had been walking around with ashes on their foreheads. I'm an atheist and even I know Ash Wednesday starts the Lenten season and Good Friday is 38 days later. I mean, Jesus Christ (no pun intended), that's pretty basic. Someone was definitely asleep at the wheel there.

You know, this wasn't the worst book I've ever read in my life, but it just failed so spectacularly at what it set out to do that I don't see how it can get anything more than one star. I think it's possible Hocking can write a better book next time, but I doubt I'll be along for the ride.

4/20/14: I'm too tired right now to talk about how terrible this book was. Maybe later.
Profile Image for Aaron McQuiston.
493 reviews19 followers
August 31, 2015
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 read the second half twenty and thirty pages at a time over a two week period. This slowdown occurred because Justin Hocking introduced me to a world, and I had to look into it a little bit. It was not the world of surfing New Yorkers or skateboarding, but the world of those obsessed by "Moby Dick." Hocking fashioned his memoir around "Moby Dick" and how his journey through a rough period in his life mirrors Ishmael's in some aspects and Ahab's in others. I knew that I was missing something, not because I had no understanding of what he was saying, but that I might be able to relate to him in ways that I had never thought if I was in the same mindset. (He does a very good job of explaining his feeling and the parallels to a reader who does not have the intimate knowledge of "Moby Dick" or Herman Melville as him. If you don't want to read "Moby Dick" after this, it all still makes sense.) I'm one of those people whom had always had a pleasant respect for "Moby Dick", but I'd never taken the time to read it. "The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld" is like a blaring horn in my head, saying, "Buddy! It's time to read it!" So some of my slowdown was also because I started reading "Moby Dick" as well.

I like this memoir in the literary senses. Hocking is good a drawing from literature and the lives of authors to help explain his obsessions, his phobias, and his overall mindset during various tough periods of his life. He explains that "Moby Dick" has been a catalyst in his life, even as it spirals out of control, but he is not the only one to experience this. He mentions the Great White Death, those who get lost in the obsessions with "Moby Dick" with the same intensity as Ahab chasing his whale. He uses David Foster Wallace as a huge example of someone who turned to Melville in a time of darkness, and in the chapter "The White Dead", he lists almost 30 artists from all forms of art (writers, painters, sculptors, and filmmakers) obsessed with "Moby Dick". It is an impressive list, and really solidifies that this obsession is not singular but almost universal.

I have been focusing on the "Moby Dick" aspects of this memoir more than I should. I could talk about the uniqueness of surfers in New York City or how scraping out a living is sometimes the only thing letting you do the things you love, but the "Moby Dick" aspect is really what has struck me, made me want to see what the fuss is all about, and made me think that I might very easily become a member of the White Dead. For this, I cannot recommend "The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld" enough.
Profile Image for Susanna.
460 reviews10 followers
March 30, 2014
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 throughout of the author's own quest, along with interesting stories of the searchers around him, and some interesting structural twists and turns as well. And I learned so much about Moby Dick (and viewing Moby Dick in a new way) that I am even motivated to perhaps dive back into that book, which, to my shame, is the only book on my high school or college lit reading lists that I didn't read in full.
45 reviews4 followers
March 26, 2015
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 realized that I had never before felt so close to someone I had never met. Hocking has no qualms about laying himself out before the masses, frankly presenting his experiences and introspection in a personal conversation about his darkest journey through life.
Though early in 2014 still, "Wonderworld" is one of the most valuable books I've read so far this year.
Profile Image for Heather.
694 reviews15 followers
September 1, 2014
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/relationships) and tells the story of how he came to New York, then left again, in prose that's sometimes lovely and sometimes struck me as overdone. (In one passage, Hocking describes Maspeth Creek, English Kills, and Newtown Creek as "ruined waterways like New York's trackmarked veins after a century-long overdose" (4). But there's this, from the same paragraph, which I really like: "Brooklyn spits us out into Queens, past cinder-block car washes and fast food joints and a cluster of graveyards: Linden Hill, Mount Olivet, Lutheran, and St. John—the only shards of green space for miles.") My other issues with the book may just be about me not being the right reader for it, in minor ways or more major ones. Some of the skateboarding and surfing passages were hard to follow: I felt like I couldn't really picture what was being described because I didn't know some of the vocabulary (e.g. I don't know what a frontside grind looks like). And I'm probably more interested in stories about people who come to New York and feel at home and stay than about people who come here, don't feel at home, and leave.
7 reviews
September 1, 2015
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 some of the moments that would seem to indicate vulnerability came off with a hint of the self-congratulatory, like "Look at me, I'm being a modern, sexually-aware, progressive, environmentally-concerned being. Give me a ribbon." Similarly, though I could relate to what he was getting at with is discussions of Melville and the authorial/artistic difficulty with despair at losing one's chosen life narrative, I wish he had included some more non-white, non-male voices. When you get right down to it, much of the book reads like your average middle-class not-quite-young adult white man in America--you know: "my job is soul-sucking; my love life is a mess; I just want to surf all day and hang with my skater friends." Also I'm just generally confused as to why he would write a memoir at this point in his life--most of the moments he relates are mundane. Maybe that is a critique of the belief in a life narrative. Or it might just be a lack of material. Still, I wouldn't say no to reading the next thing he writes--just so long as it isn't about him.
99 reviews11 followers
May 15, 2015
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, relationships, politics, anxiety and twelve-step meetings. There is also some shimmering prose, particularly when Hocking writes about surfing, the sea and nature in general. The only "misses" in this memoir is his pedantic and sophomoric asides on Bush and Cheney that seem cartoonish rather than illuminating, and, at times, his writing about participating in one particular type of twelve-step program around co-dependency comes across as self-indulgent and whiny. The skillful writer that Hocking is leads me to believe that he could have spent more time on synopsis rather than immediacy during his characterizations of his meeting participation. Glad to read that Hocking, like Ishmael, survives to write about his own personal Moby Dick-like voyage between New York and Portland and the struggle between art and making a living.
13 reviews
May 26, 2014
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 the author's difficulties with codependency in relationships, which he chooses to understand and attempt to overcome in the context of an addiction and recovery model. There are just much better written, more interesting stories of addiction and recovery out there. These sections of the book drag, do not relate in any real way to the more interesting parts I mention above, and make him seem fairly shallow and unlikeable.
Profile Image for Chris Notionless.
65 reviews1 follower
June 22, 2015
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 to give the author purpose when they are overcome? An accomplishment such as learning to surf (Kudos-here's the one star feedback!) After suffering through the author's self-help meetings (think AA for relationship dependency), the unrelentless urge to compare everything and anything to Moby Dick, seemingly shallow spiritual awakenings and general paranoia (the subway bit was ridiculous, sorry) -- I was about ready to hurl the book into the shore break.
Profile Image for Lauren.
398 reviews
April 2, 2014
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 enjoy this book!
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
43 reviews1 follower
March 29, 2014
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 our personalities. I am not usually drawn to memoirs but I loved this book. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Tobias.
Author 11 books173 followers
March 14, 2014
Moving memoir of dislocation, depression, surfing, and literature. And the structural risks, including nods to Moby-Dick, pay off.
91 reviews9 followers
April 19, 2014
Not a bit of pretense in this despite the Melville lines. Perfect for those still healing.
Profile Image for Martha.
72 reviews
September 17, 2018
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 little shop I pick up this book. So already I love it - but then I begin reading and Justin’s honesty about anxiety about life about milling around and trying to figure things out just draws me in. And then he pulls me into Melville and surfing Rockaway beach and surfers emerging from the subway and addicts and people who save addicts and the writing and editing life. I am much older than anyone in this book - but I learn from it and learn about artists and movements I missed. It is the millennial version of Bright Lights, Big City. I loved every minute of this book.
Profile Image for Tessa Tito.
5 reviews2 followers
January 17, 2017
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 Dick, Hocking is skillfully able to translate the story to have a universal appeal and contextualize its importance for other artists as well. My favorite part of the book is the author's willingness to show genuine vulnerability in a way that is not self-pitying/ woe-is-me, nor feels emotionally draining for the reader. He writes about his struggles with depression and recovery from addiction to relationships with insight and depth. As someone who has struggled with depression, I related to his story. His style of writing is so genuine and authentic, it felt as though he was somebody who I had known for years.

He uses a third person perspective from the subway's point of view to show us the intensity of his anxiety in a poetic darkly humorous way. Another interesting chapter was when Hocking assesses his life and Moby Dick's using the same style of documentation form as his work at a treatment center with adolescent boys where he has self-deprecating humor about teaching the kids to break-dance. I was continually impressed and fascinated by how the author integrates cultural, artistic, religious, and philosophical observations and research throughout the book. I believe this quote towards the end shows the high caliber of insight and equanimity that Hocking has, "What I am doing is longing for balance, for wisdom, for the ability to fill a canvas with both light and dark."
Profile Image for Chelsea.
Author 6 books29 followers
March 11, 2019
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.
7 reviews
October 27, 2022
Makes me want to take another look at Moby Dick. I wish that Melville was as good a writer as Hocking.
29 reviews
March 30, 2022
This book had been sitting on my To Read shelf for a while, after a college professor recommended both this work and Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water. After reading Yuknavitch's memoir, I had high hopes that Hocking's book would be equally life-changing/mind-blowing/amazing, but I may have set the bar too high.

This book was initially hard to get into. I read a bit, then shelved it for a few weeks, couldn't help but pick it up again, then shelve it, then pick it up... and on and on. What kept me going was thinking that maybe if I stuck with it long enough, I'd get to the part that tied together all the disjointed, out-of-order and seemingly unrelated scenes and extraneous characters, and be rewarded with some amazing life lesson or insight or anything.

Well... I admire the author's hard look at his destructive relationship patterns and his participation in programs to change his cycle of obsession/idolization/depression. And I can relate to his constant kinetic energy and need for physical adventures (and the tendency to spiral into self-destructive behaviors if that outlet is stifled). I can even totally get the feeling of homesickness when moving away from Colorado and its landscape and culture... but I just didn't get a whole lot from this book.

Maybe if I read Moby Dick first, I would understand? Maybe if I was a surfer I could understand half the words he uses and be clued in to something I'm missing?
Profile Image for Carye Bye.
Author 2 books7 followers
April 12, 2015
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 him out on an action I did not see adding to the good parts of his character, I let him know, and he dealt it with graciously and non-defensively which shows me he's good people. I tell this story because I don't enjoy giving a three-star review to a friend's work which obviously took hours and hours, rewrites and rewrites, and is quite personal. It's a good book but flawed as a book for the many...a few years more reflection and writing may have helped steer it to a book more people would enjoy and get something huge from but it's written in a time period of healing and of male ego. Sometimes I wonder why memoirs are written so early....this book has its audience for sure, and I know they are happy with the book.. I just happen to not be the audience.

Here's the good news -- Justin's an incredibly talented writer and a big thinker. His book shows this profoundly. The bad news is this book felt like a therapy book, more than a literary book memoir -- which I really didn't expect at all. As the memoir went on, Justin talks about different girls he felt he should have stayed with and is obsessed and I couldn't remember who was who so it for me felt hard to follow.

I'm really into Maritime as a subject matter (I worked for a year and half at a bookstore that sold only that genre!) but I'm still scared to try Moby Dick, but Justin's obsession with Moby Dick (which I approve of!) almost makes me want to try to read it. I went to his reading at Powells when the book came out and I loved hearing about that obsession (much more than lost love obsession--even though I can probably relate more to the later, it just seems less interesting to me at this time in my life).

Also I think this book in some ways is better in short stories form. Even thought the pieces do come together and connect, I think some of the chapters are better as stand-alones.

I'm glad to have read it, and look forward to what's next!!!
Profile Image for Donna Davis.
1,756 reviews235 followers
March 29, 2014
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 Goodreads.com First Reads program.

The memoir traces his personal quest as he moves from student to adult, and he draws in and seeks to synthesize Melville's ocean--the same one in which he surfs now--and also the horror of what the oil companies have wrecked upon our waters, with the internal turmoil he experiences with codependent relationships.

I can see what the writer is trying to do, and yet for me, it didn't quite gel. There are some moments I liked, but they weren't central to the plot. I liked what he did with the L-Train conversation, which was light and witty even while it addressed some of the dark issues he was facing, and when the setting transitioned to my own stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest, I smiled when he mentioned an indoor skating rink and watching fireworks over the Willamette. Unless I miss my guess, this rink is the historical one with the aged wide boards at Oaks Park. I raised my first three kids in that neighborhood, and I was young enough then to skate with them myself. And I watched those fireworks every year for seven years, laying on the roof of my elderly station wagon with their father and a good cup of coffee. Good memories.

But you want to know about the book, not about my memories, and I am not sure what to say here. I really like most memoirs, and I read a lot of them. But for me, I came out of this feeling more as if I'd read someone's journal, wondering why I was reading it (apart from having volunteered). It didn't resonate for me as I had thought it might, but to be fair, I am not a surfer, and not crazy about Melville.

I would suggest this as a good niche read for those who may be dealing with transitions in their own lives; who love Melville; or who love surfing and skating.
Profile Image for Kerfe.
883 reviews36 followers
October 3, 2014
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 into this category. Responsibility, commitment: very anxiety-producing. Let's go surfing!

There are many on-the-other-hands for me here. Who thinks our profit-obsessed consumer culture is the best way to live? What if they formed a corporation and nobody came? What if they turned out yet another unnecessary environment-unfriendly product and no one bought into it? I get it.

But Hocking seems to want it both ways. And though he does acknowledge the contradictions, he still wants the peer-approved consumer goods, he's not going to give up the laptop, the phone, the car, the airplane trips to far away places. He wants the benefits of Western culture without the stress or guilt. Don't we all.

And I admire his decision to expose himself--well, in a way. In general, I think people need to "share" less, and "do" more, but if you're going to write a memoir--although, again, why?--I think he approached it in the right spirit.

But then again, on the other hand...he could have written a good book of essays about Melville and history and surfing and art and culture without telling us his own story at all.

I understand: it was therapeutic. We're all anxious, we all have obsessions and problems dealing with the world. We, and all our friends and family, are going to die. It's not a unique situation.

So do the therapy, then edit yourself out.
Profile Image for Amy.
23 reviews5 followers
August 18, 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 learn, to be in the ocean while living in a city, and how it came to be an overwhelming obsession. In particular I thought the descriptions of his friends--including, among others, Kessler, Dawn, Asa, Attiq--were really thoughtful and rich. The important role they played (and likely still play) in his life was evident. I was frustrated by his inability to "marshal his resources," but so was he and I felt that frustration. Above all, I became invested in the outcome and wanted to see if he made it out of New York, the city that ruined and saved his life, and that investment is what informs the rating.
1 review1 follower
June 5, 2016
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 get a glimpse of the ocean, it would be difficult for me to not feel a connection to Justin's words from beginning to end. The memoirs are beautifully written and evoke a sense of adventure amidst a sea of confusion and uncertainty. The narrator seems genuinely infatuated with life, even when his focus is funneled toward the obsession of the moment.

I MAY even attempt reading Moby Dick, which was certainly not a thought before reading this, as the metaphorical references were at the same time adventurous and enlightening.
Profile Image for Andrew Brown.
15 reviews
May 9, 2014
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 not explained nearly as well as the book's extremely dense first half. An indistinct ending doesn't help it, either. Some readers may be put off by Hocking's willingness to spout partisan politics without flinching. Overall, however, an extremely entertaining read as long as you're not expecting the second half to be a revelation.
Profile Image for Katie Bliss.
824 reviews17 followers
May 19, 2014
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 and excellent usage of ocean/surfing terminology throughout.
Profile Image for Eric Graham.
5 reviews
June 4, 2014
4.5 stars really. I now want to learn how to surf and read Moby-Dick. It was nice to read a book so earnest and real. I can really relate to this book because I went and am going through a lot of the same struggles that Mr. Hocking went through. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one with problems and it was refreshing jolt of reality to read about another person's struggles and eventual triumph. We are all living the same life on one planet and it's nice to be reminded of that once in a while.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
12 reviews
April 26, 2015
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 little self-conscious, but highly readable as an honest self-examination.
Profile Image for Allison.
324 reviews4 followers
October 20, 2015
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 great work.
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