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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life Paperback – 3 Feb 2016
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A surfer's tale of his quest for self-transcendence is a masterpiece that recalls early James Salter (Geoff Dyer, the Observer)
I don't know anything about surfing, but I was gripped by the intensity of his language, never mind the thrilling recklessness of his behaviour in the waves (Olivia Laing, Guardian Best Holiday Reads 2015)
There are too many breathtaking, original things in Barbarian Days to do more than mention here - observations about surfing that have simply never been made before, or certainly never so well. But a particularly remarkable feature of Barbarian Days is the generous yet unsparing portraits of competitive surf friendships that make up a major share of the narrative (New York Times)
Nothing I've read so accurately describes the feeling of being stoked or the despair of being held under. But also because while it is a book about 'A Surfing Life' - as the subtitle states - it's also about a writer's life and, even more generally, a quester's life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I've read in a long time (LA Times)
Surfing is Topic A here, but it inevitably connects with politics (when Mr. Finnegan taught in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1981, students boycotted his classes to protest apartheid), environmental issues (he sees great surf spots both created and destroyed by human enterprise) and much more. (New York Times, Cool Beach Books for Hot Summer Days)
Reading this guy on the subject of waves and water is like reading Hemingway on bullfighting; William Burroughs on controlled substances; Updike on adultery. . . . a coming-of-age story, seen through the gloss resin coat of a surfboard (Sports Illustrated)
For pure sensation, pick up New Yorker writer William Finnegan's memories of the beach, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Just try and keep the sand out of your book . . . and out of your sandwich. (Publishers Weekly, Best Summer Books 2015)
Luscious (Ed Caesar, Guardian)
A far-ranging, unique and bewitching memoir ... You don't need to have surfed to enjoy this book. (Literary Review)
How many ways can you describe a wave? You'll never get tired of watching Finnegan do it. A staff writer at The New Yorker, he leads a counterlife as an obsessive surfer, traveling around the world, throwing his vulnerable, merely human body into line after line of waves in search of transient moments of grace . . . It's an occupation that has never before been described with this tenderness and deftness (TIME Magazine, Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2015)
A deeply rendered self-portrait of a lifelong surfer by the acclaimed New Yorker writerSee all Product description
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Bill Finnegan is a New Yorker staffer with a background in political and conflict reportage, so he knows his writing chops and has the contacts and reputation for this to come to the attention of the literary establishment in a way that most surfing books probably don’t. Having said that, this is the best book on the topic that I’ve read since Andy Martin’s Walking on Water, another minor masterpiece.
He never says as much, but Finnegan is a minor hellman, a big-wave surfer. Not the truly giant stuff taken on by household names like Laird Hamilton (ok, showing my age now) but still, this is a guy who has taken on most of the world’s best waves, including some of the heaviest. A man who has consistently surfed sessions in 10-15ft, often at breaks where reefs and rocks require complete commitment.
Very few of the people that can do this can also write as well as Finnegan, and the descriptions he brings back from the wave face and ‘out the back’ in big swells ring with a sonorous truth.
Bill Finnegan also captures the moment and the people beautifully, growing up in the 60s in LA and Hawaii, travelling cheap and light looking for waves in the 70s and 80s. I found myself constantly drawn back to this book, and to the water. The recent arrival of two children mean that it’s been a long while since I bothered to check the surf at the local breaks. I’m thinking that needs to change.
I enjoyed this very much for example - within one page 'I did know that I had never surfed so loosely in waves that size. I felt immortal' and 'Most likely it was malaria. I started feeling less immortal.' within 3 lines - lovely :)
Then the language goofyfoot and kook (came from kula which is Hawaian for s***)
A world I will never know was opened to me.
How much a non surfer would get from this is hard to gauge, it might seem somewhat self indigent. Anyone who surfs though and has a taste for a good turn of phrase will love it
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