20 September 2010

Book Review: The Wave

Title: The Wave
Author: Susan Casey
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: 14 September 2010
Date Finished: 19 September 2010

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, Non-Fiction Five,

The Short and Sweet of It
Susan Casey introduces readers to the men and women who pursue the more extreme of oceanic waves: tow surfers and scientists in search of giant waves.

A Bit of a Ramble
In the beginning, there was excitement. I tore through the first handful of chapters, verbally exclaiming over the more dare-devil actions of the surfers and the majesty of the waves. I found the writing well-paced, informative, and entertaining - not quite Mary Roach, but with definite Roachish moments.  But then something happened. Well actually nothing happened. Nothing new anyway. Each chapter felt like a repeat of the one before with only a tiny bit of newness to distinguish itself from the rest of the book. The same people are visited over and over - particularly Laird Hamilton, admittedly a fascinating person - and the same things are said over and over - scientists can't get a grip on measurement and prediction, the ocean is getting more volatile. By the end, I was doing something I very very rarely do - I was skimming, glossing over entire paragraphs to find something new to read about.

Back to Roach. I can't help but compare Casey to Roach. Both write nonfiction accounts of unique subjects. Both focus their writing on interviews, facts, and a bit of snark. Their divergence is in tone and organization. While Roach clearly delineates each chapter into a different, specific subject, Casey's chapters are overly reminiscent of the ones which came before. Like Roach, Casey interjects humorous, personal interpretations and feelings, but she does so less often than Roach and in a more subdued fashion. Roach is no-holds-barred snark; Casey is modestly funny. 

One specific point in the book really bugged me, perhaps without much warrant. Casey is discussing Maya Gabeira one of the world's only female tow surfers. While being interviewed, Gabeira is flirted with, questions focusing on whether or not she is single and how hot she is instead of on the waves. When she receives her award, Gabeira is congratulated by the emcee who then, in a horrifying bout of sexism, asks her to grab him a beer. Casey of course makes it clear that she disagrees with this sexism, but I spent the next few pages thinking about nothing but this: Why didn't Casey spend more than three pages with Gabeira? At that point, Casey seemed as sexist as the men.

Overall, I'm happy I read the book. It was extremely informative and exciting for the first 200 pages. Unfortunately, for the last 100+ pages, I just wanted it to be over.

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  1. Roach is a hard act to follow. Author beware.

  2. Rogue waves ARE fascinating and scary, don't you think? I got enough ocean action writing when I read Overboard which is about regular sailor types getting caught in a bigger storm than they expected.
    I don't think I would be that interested in this, but I'm happy for you that you enjoyed the first half or so.

  3. See, I feel that's an easy mistake for nonfiction writers–repeating yourself. And it is so frustrating for a reader.

  4. Hmmm...I wasn't super interested in this topic to begin with, so I think I'll pass. Thanks for the honest review!

  5. Darn, I was hoping this one was going to be really good. I'll probably still read it anyway, but maybe with lower expectations.

  6. It's too bad the book became repetitive - I hate when I have to slog through the end of a book like that.

  7. I feel that way about a lot of non-fiction books... either there's nothing new or I get bored with the topic. I was definitely afraid with a topic like this that I would feel that way. Sounds like I probably would!

  8. I have this book up for review soon, and I have to be honest in saying that I am a little dubious about it. It sounds like it may not have been executed all that well. I am still going to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I really appreciated your honest thoughts on it.

  9. Good point about the sexism, forgot about that in my review. Ugh that part made me want to throw the book across the room. Though at least she did mention it, even briefly, and it did get some page space. I thought it was important to highlight the fact even if it didn't get a lot of detail.

    Another book that I liked more than you :) Though I haven't read any Roach so maybe I just don't have that to compare it to and so liked it more!

  10. I was really curious about this book after Trish mentioned it on her blog a long time ago. It's tough when authors don't do enough to make chapters different -- there needs to either be a story tying it together or clear focus. Still, I might look for this one at the library since I'm pretty curious.

  11. Hmmmm...it almost sounds like she didn't pick a big enough subject to fill a book if she had to repeat so much. And I think most writers would suffer by comparison to Mary Roach!


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