- by Carol Standish
If you could delight every reading boater or water worshipper on your holiday gift list, with one item, would you do it? Life should be so simple, you say. Scoff not. Such an opportunity is at hand. The Seacoast Reader, a Nature Conservancy book (The Lyons Press; 294pp; $17.95), edited by John A. Murray is the one book to buy several of this gift giving season. The Seacoast Reader is better than a travel book or even a pretty picture book because you are guided to 23 exotic spots or incidents by 23 different writers, each of whom has a specific, well-informed interest and point of view different from every other contributor. Furthermore, as with all quality anthologies, if there is a particular author that intrigues you, there's more to read.
Essays, excerpts and anecdotes about the coasts of three continents and numerous luscious islands have been selected and arranged in such a thoughtful and enticing way that the book reads like a suspense novel (well, almost)-you can't wait to see what's next. Murray's choice of writers, both classic and contemporary, is wide ranging, from Darwin to Daniel Duane, a passionate surfer with a doctorate in Literature.
Each essay or excerpt expresses a focused point of view informed by the author's training or life experience on the ocean or the coast of an ocean. The variety is astonishing, and yet the essays complement each other like a mental jigsaw puzzle. A particularly moving episode from John Cole's Striper is accompanied by an account of an Alaskan couple's day of commercial salmon fishing which serves as a companion to Marybeth Holleman's bittersweet thoughts on the recovery of the Alaskan coast from the Exxon Valdez spill.
Kenneth Brower, son of David and an exceptionally evocative writer, narrates his visit with a blind Dutch "biogeographer" who has traveled the world collecting and classifying shells. "In Vermeij's geography all continents are dark. When he thinks of Senegal, he remembers the dryness, the sounds and smells of the city of Dakar, and a couple of limpets…the features of his mental globe are not land masses but shorelines." Brower accompanies the scientist on a collecting trip to a reef near home in the Palua Archipelago of Micronesia. "He crouched in the water and began collecting on his haunches, so that his arms could sweep a wider area. He heard the incoming waves…moved in nice synchrony with the waves, rising just in time, with a shorebird's sense of the sea's rhythm."
As an editor, Murray is sensitive to both the emotional tone and the specific voice of each author. No one, no matter how erudite, condescends. Many essays are just plain straightforward good reporting like Jan DeBlieu's April Blow about the effort to rebuild the dunes along Cape Hatteras and the opening essay by Barry Lopez, A Presentation of Whales, about a mass stranding on the Oregon coast. And although the book contains no swashbuckling action stories, adventure, fantasy and lightheartedness all have their day.
At least three people on my list will be receiving this beautifully put together, thought provoking book.
PS Check out our book review archive for additional gift suggestions.