Books on GIF #18 — 'Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life' by William Finnegan


Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This Sunday's book is 'Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life' by William Finnegan.
Barbarian DaysThis book forces you to decide: either you find a story about a white man surfing interesting, or you don't. If you do, you should stop reading this review. If you don't, let's go.'m lost at how this memoir won the Pulitzer Prize. It was tedious and boring. It was like being invited to someone's house to watch a slideshow of every vacation they ever took. Finnegan loves to surf. And he loves to tell you where he surfed: First I surfed Hawaii then I surfed California then I dropped out of college and surfed the south Pacific and found this place in Fiji that only these other guys and I knew about and surfed it and it was great and then Australia and then Bali and I got malaria and I surfed some more and then I moved to New York and surfed and then I took annual trips to Madiera and surfed and then I surfed Long Island and it was great and I then I went back to Fiji and surfed and it was tough and then I surfed New York some more. Yes, the book is 400-plus agonizing pages of this. mean, 'Point Break' had more interesting prose: amid all this surfing, Finnegan became a reporter for The New Yorker covering war and other weighty issues. That's only mentioned in passing here. Somalia, El Salvador, Soweto: like bubbles in sea foam. Ditto for the people in his life. They were more fleshed out, but they came and went from the story so abruptly it was hard to connect to them. And despite the first person perspective, I felt I didn't really get to know Finnegan. The real him was somewhere beyond the waves. I learned more about him from surfing Google. journalism school, novice reporters are taught to 'show, don't tell.' 'Showing' is where you use the interesting details and characters from your reporting to really bring a scene to life in the readers' minds. They need someone to connect to, and to care what happens. This book was all tell. The waves and locales were spectacular, and his friends and family interesting, because Finnegan said so, not because they came alive in his narrative. And it's a shame. He's had an interesting and enviable life and career. This book should have done them more justice.

'Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,' by William Finnegan was published in 2015 by Penguin Books. 447 pages.

My rating:'s next? In the coming weeks I'll review 'The Sympathizer,' by Viet Thanh Nguyen, 'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi and 'Girlfriends, Ghosts and Other Stories,' by Robert Walser, among others.

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