Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Posted: July 06, 2016
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
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I've heard more than once that a lot of musicians and music lovers consider the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" to be one of the most perfect songs ever written. Here's a recent article that calls it "the perfect marriage of lyric and music." Now my mama loooooves the Beach Boys, and that's pretty much all I listened to, with some Linda Ronstadt thrown in here and there, when I was a kid in the car with her. So I actually appreciate the band--their harmonies, their musicality, their addition of Uncle Jesse in the 80s. But I'm not sure I get all the reverence and accolades for "God Only Knows" in particular. It just sounds like a Beach Boys song to me.

But it's possible I'm an idiot.

Similarly, William Finnegan's Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life sounds like just a book about surfing to me. Surfing's cool, and I respect those who are good at it, but I don't relate to the obsession with it, and the almost religious aura it carries for some. And unless there are sharks and amputations involved, I'm not sure how a memoir about surfing could be worthy of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography.

But again, it's possible that I'm an idiot and Barbarian Days is a damn good book about surfing. Maybe even the best beach read of the summer.

Finnegan's story takes readers through his life of part-time surfing the world and part-time wandering it. Growing up in California and Hawaii, he picked up surfing young and stuck to the books until adolescence. His rebellion spanned joining a whites-only gang in his Honolulu high school and dropping LSD before hitting the waves of Honolua Bay on Maui. He then went on to chase them through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, and Africa, stopping along the way to hang in a Somoan fishing village, maneuver through the Indonesian black market, and almost die of malaria. Eventually, Finnegan returned to the books, becoming a writer and a war reporter.

Barbarian Days is described as "an old-school adventure story...a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting, little-understood art." Perhaps the perfect marriage of sport and life.

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