As I write this, it’s snowing outside in Vermilion, Ohio. No complaining, people! It’s winter and we’re supposed to have snow, not 50 degree weather.
But okay. Maybe you’re someone who can’t hack the cold. I have a great book prescription for you. Get it? A la “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George? If you’re sick of the weather – or even if you’re not – I highly recommend “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan.
I don’t care if you like surfing or even know anything about it. That’s so not the point. This book is about beauty and nature and man’s (in the humanist sense, of course) interconnectedness with it.
Let’s start with the title. Finnegan’s “barbarian days” come from another author, Edward St. Aubyn (whom I also recommend, with the caveat that he is definitely not for the faint-hearted!) Barbarian days are that time of life when you are more interested in wild splashes of color than coloring inside the lines.
Let’s dive right in (ha ha!) You don’t even have to dive deep (did it again!) because the book jacket quote is completely seductive (IMO):
“Even at six feet, it was a serious wave. Heavy, long-interval lines marched out of the west, bending around the headland into a breathtaking curve. They feathered and bowled and broke at the outermost point of the horseshoe, and then reeled down the rocky shore… As we got closer to the lineup, the power and beauty of the waves got more drenching. A set rolled through, shining and roaring in the low winter afternoon sun, and my throat clogged with emotion – some nameless mess of joy, fear, love, lust, gratitude.”
Holy cow. Do I have to say any more?
I don’t have any idea what a set is nor feathering or bowling (and I really did read the whole book). But these beautiful descriptions touched me to my core and made me deeply curious about what Finnegan had found in surfing. Fyi, this book is al lot about compulsiveness.
“Being out in big surf is dreamlike. Terror and ecstasy ebb and flow around the edges of things… I always feel a ferocious ambivalence: I want to be nowhere else; I want to be anywhere else.”
Don’t we all feel that way sometimes?
Finnegan finances his surfing obsession as a staff writer for “The New Yorker” magazine and has had a successful career as an international journalist. He’s a really good writer and this is a really good book, especially when it’s cold outside and warm waters are still just a dream here in Vermilion, Ohio.