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What to Read Next (No. 259): Under the Sea
Happy Friday, Readers! And happy new year!
Do you have any reading goals for the year? Besides just a number, are there authors or genres or subjects you’re hoping to read more of? I’d love to hear.
My ‘22 plan was to read more women and I’m happy to say that my reading last year was about 60% women/non-binary, which is huge shift from previous years.
As for this year, it’s the first time in many years that I don't have a larger plan in place. I’m sure I’ll figure out some big reading goal soon, but for now I’m just embracing reading at whim.
One genre I’d like to read a bit more of in 2023, though, is memoir.
I haven’t always been a fan of memoirs — typically, I’m not reading one unless it’s been highly recommended to me (like Becoming, Born a Crime, Open, etc.) — but I’ve been getting more into them in the last few months. I’ll write more about why in a few weeks, but the gist is that I’m coming to appreciate the perspective that memoirs offer, however jaded or filtered or even untrue they might be. You can learn a lot about a person from how they wish to be perceived. And in learning about people, we gain a deeper understanding about life itself.
To that end, I’m happy to feature a new memoir this week. I also have a few hot takes on one of 2022’s most popular books. Both fall into a general category of “Under the Sea.”
Let’s do it.
Sign up for my online book club, The Big Read. We’re reading Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” from January to March. Just $5/month to be part of an awesome bookish community!
How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler
In today’s publishing market, it’s incredibly hard for non-celebrities to get memoir deals, which means those that are written by non-household names are likely pretty darn good. That’s certainly the case with Sabrina Imbler’s newly published book.
In How Far the Light Reaches, Imbler uniquely combines their science journalism bona fides with lyrical and deeply honest insights into their own life story.
Through the lens of 10 sea creatures — all of them wildly weird in their own way — Imbler looks at what they can learn from the unique characteristics of nature’s craziest lifeforms. Family, sexuality, and resilience are just a few of the themes explored within.
Along the way, the reader inevitably picks up of those same lessons, whether about being authentic, finding community in the midst of hardship, learning to fight injustice, or exploring your identity in safe spaces.
Though parts of the narrative made me squirm (Imbler is a little more open about their sex life than I’m typically interested in reading about), isn’t that a good thing in our reading life? I sure think so.
Imbler’s writing is as luminous as the creatures they’re writing about. I definitely recommend How Far the Light Reaches if you’re into science and/or memoirs.
January Releases I’m Most Excited About
Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor — the first thriller in a new trilogy; early reviews have been rave. I just grabbed this one from the library and you’ll certainly be hearing about it soon.
The Deluge by Stephen Markley — I love epics, I love apocalyptic narratives, and I love Stephen King’s gushing words about this one: “This book is, simply put, a modern classic. If you read it, you'll never forget it. Prophetic, terrifying, uplifting.”
Waco by Jeff Guinn — Guinn’s books on Charles Manson and Jim Jones have been as memorable and propuslive as any non-fiction I’ve read in the last few years. Spoiler alert: I’ve read this one already and it’s fantastic.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
I don’t relish posting negative reviews of contemporary books. Authors work so hard and publishing is such a tough industry to break into, that I try to keep things pretty positive in the newsletter. I generally just don’t mention books that I didn’t enjoy.
Remarkably Bright Creatures has been so wildly successful, though, that I don’t mind posting an opposing viewpoint.
The gist: Tova, an older woman, volunteers at an aquarium. She befriends a giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus. This octopus isn’t your ordinary sea creature and has a couple clues up his metaphorical sleeve about the disappearance of Tova’s son Erik, who vanished 30 years prior. There’s also Cameron, a luckless thirtysomething nomad who also works at the aquarium and hasn’t found his way in life yet.
I think what excites people about the book are the chapters narrated by Marcellus. It’s a unique choice, for sure, and those chapters are absolutely the highlight of the book. His voice is wry and insightful, sort of like a cranky old man. The problem is that these chapters are few and far between and only occupy 1-2 pages at a time. I actually thought the book needed wayyy more Marcellus.
I’ve seen reviews gushing about the human characters as well, but I couldn’t get over their flatness. It’s hard to find too much fault with Tova, but Cameron was so unlikable that I had a hard time getting through the chapters focused on him. (And the other ancillary characters weren’t compelling either.)
Now for the story. Sure, it was nice enough, but I had a hunch about the ending early on, skipped about 150 pages, and confirmed my prediction without feeling like I missed anything at all.
As a whole, I just didn’t think that Remarkably Bright Creatures had much depth. Seeing it on numerous Best of the Year lists (particularly on #bookstagram and #booktok), then, has been a bit surprising. This was actually a book club read, and we all agreed that it was fairly shallow and had multiple annoying traits. Some enjoyed it more than others, but there was definitely agreement on its unremarkableness.
This is just one reader’s opinion, of course, and goes to show that not every book is for every reader.
That’s all for me this week. Thanks so much for the time and attention — I deeply appreciate it!