Sunday, April 24, 2011
I have to hand it to Donovan Hahn. If you're going to take the title of your book from the wandering, tangential, verbose, similarly named book of Herman Melville's, you ought to live up to it. He does. Not in the sense that Hahn's work is a classic. In the sense that it is sprawling, rambling, and filled with words that you wouldn't ever use yourself.
Moby Duck is about Hahn's search to understand more about a shipment of bathtub toy that were spilled by a cargo ship during a storm in the early 1990's. Years later, some of those toys began washing up in all sorts of places around the world and it piqued Hahn's interest. This book talks about every aspect of the incident that you could possibly think of.
You learn about cargo ships, ocean currents, the Arctic, toymaking in China, beachcombing, trash, boots, flotation devices, seasickness, being a father, and so much more. No stone is left unturned, no thought left unwritten. If I thought T.C. Boyle was bad about using big words, well, I think even he would need a dictionary to get through Moby Duck.
And it's not just big words. Hahn uses big sentences and I don't understand why. I tried to think why someone would do such a thing. Is it to show off? Who is your target audience when you write that way and why doesn't your editor do something about it? I don't know. It bugged me. No, you don't have to dumb down your book, but I think some people might give up or get frustrated when they're coming across a word every other page that they don't recognize.
For all my complaining, though, I did enjoy the book. It was different and it was thorough. The thoroughness slowed things down at times as Hahn went off to pursue some line of thought I couldn't care less about but, like Melville, he eventually came back to the crux of the story.
It's interesting enough that I would recommend it to folks. It'll probably take some time to read but in the end, I think you'll find it worthwhile.
Training Update: After a day off yesterday (details forthcoming), I headed off to bed early and got a solid nine hours sleep. Woke up feeling rested and energized and thought I would give a half-marathon a shot.
One hour, thirty-two minutes and forty-seven seconds. I felt good and think I could have actually finished the marathon given enough time to do it today (and wanting to wait until the challenge in May).