Duck, Duck, Book

March 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Brevity 27 contributor Donovan Hohn is enjoying a duckload of well-deserved attention for his Harper’s article turned book, Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.

Hohn’s book is a fascinating example of creative nonfiction’s inherent flexibility.  Though on the surface this is a work of what is most often termed “literary journalism” or “narrative nonfiction,” in the tradition of McPhee or Kurlansky, Hohn has a definite essayistic tendency, veering off into odd corners of thought and fact whenever the urge strikes.  It makes for a great read.

Here’s an excerpt from his website:

AT THE OUTSET, I FELT NO NEED TO ACQUAINT MYSELF WITH THE SIX DEGREES OF FREEDOM. I’d never heard of the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch. I liked my job and loved my wife and was inclined to agree with Emerson that travel is a fool’s paradise. I just wanted to learn what had really happened, where the toys had drifted and why. I loved the part about containers falling off a ship, the part about the oceanographers tracking the castaways with the help of far-flung beachcombers. I especially loved the part about the rubber duckies crossing the Arctic, going cheerfully where explorers had gone boldly and disastrously before.

At the outset, I had no intention of doing what I eventually did: quit my job, kiss my wife farewell, and ramble about the Northern Hemisphere aboard all manner of watercraft. I certainly never expected to join the crew of a fifty-one-foot catamaran captained by a charismatic environmentalist, the Ahab of plastic hunters, who had the charming habit of exterminating the fruit flies clouding around his stash of organic fruit by hoovering them out of the air with a vacuum cleaner.

Certainly I never expected to transit the Northwest Passage aboard a Canadian icebreaker in the company of scientists investigating the Arctic’s changing climate and polar bears lunching on seals. Or to cross the Graveyard of the Pacific on a container ship at the height of the winter storm season. Or to ride a high-speed ferry through the smoggy industrial backwaters of China’s Pearl River Delta, where, inside the Po Sing plastic factory, I would witness yellow pellets of polyethylene resin transmogrify into icons of childhood.

Harper’s Hails Hohn and Our “Journal of Little Essays”

November 6, 2008 § Leave a comment

Harper’s Magazine‘s Weekend Read Blog gives Brevity a nice shout out for the recent, wonderful mini-essay from Donovan Hohn, Snail Picking.

Here is what Harper’s had to say:

Donovan Hohn, an erstwhile editor at this magazine (and current contributing editor), has been writing terrific essays for Harper’s and others for a number of years. He has a lyrical way with line and a rigorous way with theme. He is attentive to the appearances of things, to the natural and its perversion by man. A little essay of Hohn’s that appeared in the journal of little essays, Brevity, begins:

I was, at age nine, a god of snails. On the quiet San Francisco cul-de-sac where my family lived, Helix aspera, the brown garden snail, was by far the most plentiful and least evasive wildlife around. Snails plied the long green fins of our neighbor’s agapanthus like barges transiting green canals. I’d unglue them from their shiny trails, hold them in mid-air, and poke their sensitive horns. They’d ripple and recoil.

It’s nice to be noticed.

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