…the first one, ever; goes to William Finnegan for “Barbarian Days.”
I’m sure he would be stoked. Okay, maybe mildly amused. Maybe just cool about the whole thing. I just heard the last of the hourly NPR newscast the other day, announcing the winner of some award. Didn’t hear what award, but something literary. I was excited. I called up Port Townsend librarian (and surfer) Keith Darrock, who had saved the book for me when they got it in. I may have been the second one to check it out. My friend Archie Endo also mentioned the book was out. Real life surf writer/editor Drew Kampion endorsed Finnegan as a writer, quite impressed he had written a two issue (unheard of in its rarity) “New Yorker” piece on Doc Renneker, legendary surfer. “Yeah, he’s legit.”
So, I read it. Not straight through; but as straight through as I could manage.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Booker Prize. Don’t they have something like that?”
No, I found out; it’s the Pulitzer! Whoa. Now, that’s something.
It might be that part of the reason I loved the book so much more than some other books on surfing I’ve read, or started to read, or scimmed and abandoned, is that Mr. Finnegan is a real writer; a really good writer. And…he’s been there; surfing and other war zones; and he can maintain a coolness that most of us cannot; he can put into words what we can feel, not explain, and yet recognize as authentic. Passion and critical situations are sometimes best described from just a bit of distance; with the right amount of objectivity. “Yeah, that’s it. He got it right.”
The explanation for why the book had a bigger impact on me than it seems to have had on Keith is, perhaps, that Finnegan and I are contemporaries. I looked it up, he’s actually a year younger than I am; started surfing at a similar time. He is able to describe the beginnings of what his reviewers always seem to call “a lifelong passion;” trying to learn, to improve, to fit into whatever tribe one finds himself among.
While he was exploring now-well known spots around the world, I was surfing now-way-more-crowded spots in a less crowded Southern California. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear how that went for him.
I actually was impressed enough to hold off of returning the book after I’d read it, asking Keith what would happen if I went over the deadline. And (this is actually unusual) I watched a video of Mr. Finnegan doing a reading at some event in New York City, with non-surfers making up most of the audience.
And he was cool; not talking down, now rolling his eyes, not even, noticeably smirking as he looked back to the page he was reading.
I have to admit I take some (probably improper) solace in knowing that, possibly to make up for his wanderings during his youth, he’s still working. Of course, when he’s not, he might be snagging a few tubes at Tavarua, staying at the now-known island, with a real bed and untainted water. So, a minor honor, indeed, but the first ever “Real-ly” is for you, Mr. William Finnegan, Jr.
I had the good fortune to find the book at Bookshop Santa Cruz, my old alma mater town, late last summer. But I bought Jerry Lopez’s book instead. I’d always wanted to read about Jerry’s life. But a month later I ordered Barbarian Days on Audible.com and what a ride. Finnegan does all the narration. While he has a bit of a dull voice, the story is just fantastic. His language poetic.
If only Jerry’s book had been that well written.
After reading a couple reviews of Finnegan’s book (including yours), I’ll have to get it from the library.
If you are looking for another surf read, hopefully you will check out my novel, Native Moments. It’s not easy getting the word out so I sometimes have to rely on commenting on people’s blogs. That being said, I really do think it my be something you enjoy. Enjoyed your take on Barbarian Days.