**Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography**
“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
Included in President Obama’s 2016 Summer Reading List Barbarian Days is William Finnegan’s memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment. Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates, it is something else: a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life.
Raised in California and Hawaii, Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa. A bookish boy, and then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a distinguished writer and war reporter. Barbarian Days takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds, some of them right under our noses—off the coasts of New York and San Francisco. It immerses the reader in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships forged in challenging waves.
Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only gang in a tough school in Honolulu. He shows us a world turned upside down for kids and adults alike by the social upheavals of the 1960s. He details the intricacies of famous waves and his own apprenticeships to them. Youthful folly—he drops LSD while riding huge Honolua Bay, on Maui—is served up with rueful humor. As Finnegan’s travels take him ever farther afield, he discovers the picturesque simplicity of a Samoan fishing village, dissects the sexual politics of Tongan interactions with Americans and Japanese, and navigates the Indonesian black market while nearly succumbing to malaria. Throughout, he surfs, carrying readers with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity.
Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting, little-understood art.
Praise for Barbarian Days:
“Without a doubt, the finest surf book I’ve ever read . . . But on a more fundamental level, Barbarian Days offers a clear-eyed vision of American boyhood. Like Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, it is a sympathetic examination of what happens when literary ideas of freedom and purity take hold of a young mind and fling his body out into the far reaches of the world.” —The New York Times Magazine “Incandescent . . . I’d sooner press this book upon on a nonsurfer, in part because nothing I’ve read so accurately describes the feeling of being stoked or the despair of being held under. . . . [But] 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.” —Los Angeles Times
Penguin Group USA
Penguin Group USA
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The unusual title of this book might lead a prospective reader to think the author is going to talk about the dark side of the people who surf. We have come to associate the word “barbarian” with hordes of less civilized people who sack cities and carry off fair maidens. But, a visit to Webster’s Dictionary will provide you with a meaning more relevant to William Finnegan’s book about the surfing life. Per Webster’s Dictionary, “barbarian” refers to a “… culture or people alien to, and usually believed to be inferior to another people or culture… “ A Barbarian might be seen as lacking refinement, learning, or artistic or literary culture. “Barbarian Days A Surfing Life” can be viewed as a memoir of some fifty years of William Finnegan’s life as a family member, a surfing fanatic, a writer, a world traveler and a Quixotic searcher of new and near perfect waves in remote places around the world;...
Best book on surfing I have read. Yes, he does veer from surfing to explore other aspects of his life, but it all weaves together so seamlessly that it holds the reader's interest throughout, even if you are a die hard surfer and that is your focus. As a contemporary of Finnegan, I found the descriptions of beach life and surfing from his childhood and early adolescence very nostalgic, even though he was describing California and Hawaii and I was on the east coast. I felt envy at the experiences he had exploring now famous waves around the world when they were still mostly unknown. This is a masterful piece of writing. His descriptions of the experience of riding a wave are unparalleled in my experience. The personal dimension he brings to the tale, both the people he meets and the conflicts he goes through, brings the story to life. This is a page turner I had trouble putting down and went through it in a few days. At 447 pages I was sad to come to the end.
This has all the attributes of a possibly great memoir: some bizarre exotic pursuit that doesn't fit with modern life (surfing), travels to strange places, meeting odd people, and living a dream we will never live, growing up in Hawaii in the 60's! Unfortunately it doesn't quite come to life. And I don't know why. Maybe there is too much 'surfing' in the surfing book? Like a war reportage memoir that focuses a lot on the typewriter?
Like the descriptions of the surf, sometimes the prose can be 'mushy' or the 'lineup can be crowded' with wordage. Occasionally you get the thrill of a 'double overhead' character or place. Creepily, I kept waiting for someone to die (spoiler alert) but like someone in the book says 'surfers never drown' and he was right. God it must be hard work to surf. A lot of waiting for something that lasts a few seconds. (like this book).
There is something about this book that I want to love. But I just can't. You know in your heart whether...
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