I’ve been trying to think of the best way to explain the effect this week’s book had on me, and I think it’s this: Over the weekend, I came very close to watching Blue Crush 2.
In the end I didn’t (True Blood prevailed) but the point is the thought was there. And ultimately, isn’t the biggest testament to a nonfiction book whether or not, in the end, it leaves you wanting to know more?
Actually, in the days after I finished Susan Casey’s The Wave, I found myself doing all sorts of additional research: looking up YouTube videos of surfer Laird Hamilton—who Casey interviews at length throughout the book—reading articles on wave research, and ironically, preparing my apartment for an imminent hurricane. It seems once I started learning about the world of extreme weather, the topic became all but unavoidable.
I guess I should give you a little context. The Wave is a nonfiction book, true, but it’s the kind of nonfiction book that immersed its author; for every interview with a world-renowned scientist, there’s a long afternoon spent a mile offshore, watching tow surfers take on 40-foot waves from the back of a lurching fishing boat. Susan Casey even moved to Hawaii for the duration of her research, and the book includes a photo of her gamely hanging on to a Jet Ski just a few minutes before Hamilton took her down the face of Jaws, one of the most impressive (and terrifying) waves in the world. It’s this immersion, in addition to Casey’s impressive research, that makes The Wave not only accessible, but riveting. In the vein of Mary Roach (my aforementioned favorite nonfiction author), Casey finds a way to bestow upon her readers the enthusiasm she seems to share with the subjects (scientists, surfers, etc.) of her story.
The Wave covers a broad spectrum (wave pun!) of oceanography, focusing primarily on the surfers who pursue the world’s most dangerous waves, and the scientists studying them (the waves, not the surfers). Threaded throughout the book are both camps’ understanding of rogue, or freak waves, the kind that level towns, destroy ocean liners and exist despite the fact that they’re mathematically inexplicable. Casey’s transitions from the adventures of the world’s greatest surfers to the findings of the world’s greatest oceanographers are never confusing; rather, it seems to take both perspectives to impart upon readers the enormity of the subject. A surfer who’s had a near-death experience with a fifty-footer and a scientist who’s seen the hull of a boat ripped clean off by one have different outlooks on the ocean, save one unifying reaction: deep respect.
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