"The Secret Lore of Ocean"

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"The Secret Lore of Ocean"

Seafarers, Sea Creatures, and Sea Stories

“But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean . . . .  for ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time.”  --  H.P. Lovecraft, "The White Ship"

When President Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in September 2016, the first national Marine Monument was established in the Atlantic Ocean.  With that action, the President highlighted the fragility of the oceans and how much we still have to learn about them.  The ocean is a perennial favorite publishing topic, and the books featured here explore different facets of a part of the world both familiar and unknown.  Here are some titles for armchair surfers and sea captains alike.

In Pursuit of Giants: One Man’s Global Search for the Last of the Great Fish (2012) by Matt Rigney
Rigney's a sport fisherman who wanted to know more about the great fish he hunted.  After traveling around the world, Rigney found that commercial fishing has destructive consequences for the ocean environment as well as for the indiscriminate variety of animals caught in its huge nets.  Every pound of shrimp caught for human consumption means five more pounds of dead fish, turtles, sea lions and dolphins.  For Rigney, fishing as an ancient profession is a noble pursuit in harmony with nature; commercial fishing's model of efficiency is amoral and detached from the oceans it poaches.  Perhaps one answer could be sustainable domestic farms like this one.

(Classic companion: Moby Dick by Herman Melville)

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (2015) by William Finnegan
Because William Finnegan is the best writer who surfs on the planet, Barbarian Days won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Biography and Memoir. Usually, books that describe surfing don't get the experience right or lapse into overwrought description.  Finnegan, a staff writer for the New Yorker, describes his travels around the world, tribes of surfers looking for waves, and, as the New York Times says, making "observations of surfing that have simply never been made before".  To get a sense of Finnegan's writing, check out "Playing Doc's Games" (1992). 

(Classic companion: Following the Equator by Mark Twain)

Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans (2011) by Charles Moore with Cassandra Phillips 
Captain Charles Moore was piloting his research boat in 1997 when he happened upon a vast collection of plastic flotsam that had been pushed into place by various ocean currents.  His discovery, located in the Northern Pacific between Hawaii and California, would later be known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Unfortunately, plastics don't always end up in the Garbage Patch - instead, they often disintegrate a little bit, then get pushed out to wash ashore on all the world's beaches or to end up in the stomachs of sea animals.  Plastic Ocean shows that the effects of human overconsumption and waste come right back to our species, but not before causing damage everywhere else first.
(Classic companion: The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson)


Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves (2015) by James Nestor
How do we get to the bottom of the sea, and what will we find when we get there?  Nestor starts his exploration of the lightless depths with reporting on the dangerous sport of freediving, which exposes the human body to lack of oxygen, tremendous pressure, and nitrogen poisoning.  From there, Nestor goes into other means of reaching the depths that have become the earth's last frontier. For a close look at life in the trenches, check out NOAA's videos of its forays into the deep ocean.

(Classic companion: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne)

Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells (2015) by Helen Scales
While seashells have been regarded as the ocean's jewels since ancient times, Scales laments their modern devaluation as kitschy beach trip souvenirs and "truly horrible ornaments".  Her mission in Spirals in Time is to "reinstate seashells to their rightful place as glorious objects that can tell us so many things".  Scales, a marine biologist, introduces readers to the mollusks that make the seashells, and goes into their many roles in human history, from currency and ornamentation to materials science and harbingers of environmental change.
(Classic companion: The Pearl by John Steinbeck)

Atlantic (2010) and Pacific (2015), by Simon Winchester
Taken together, Winchester's encyclopedic surveys of the two most major bodies of water on earth are like the oceans he depicts. The narratives are huge, swirling currents that carry readers on adventures.  Atlantic: 
Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories is organized by the seven stages of life listed in Shakespeare's As You Like It.  Although the Atlantic Ocean is smaller than the Pacific, Winchester emphasizes its importance as the "axis to Western civilization".  Winchester's take in Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers is more modern and includes more references in popular culture.  Both highlight the author's travels in and across the seas.  
(Classic companion: The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin)