Tuesday, October 20, 2015
In the glorious indie Penn Book Center, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, Ashley and I talked about who was reading what and why (a favorite conversation) and (in the midst of it all) I asked for a copy of Sy Montgomery's National Book Award nominated The Soul of an Octopus. Sy and I met when I reviewed her glorious book about swimming with the pink dolphins years ago. I've read all of books (for adults) since (Sy is an award-winning natural-world storyteller for children, too). And once, it seems ages ago, Sy and her friend and my husband and I sat in a restaurant just off Pine Street in Philly talking about the worlds we love.
The Soul of an Octopus is Sy's best book yet—and that is saying something. It's Sy as Sy—the intrepid explorer with the gonzo heart in the petite and capable body. It's Sy spending Wonderful Wednesdays with her friends at the New England Aquarium as they get to know—and be known by—a succession of form-shifting, camouflage-bedazzling, big-one-minute-squeezing-through-a-two-inch-crevasse-the-next octopuses. Sy falls in love with the first octopus touch. She begins to live on octopus time. She scubas into seas to see the wild octopus up close. And then she returns to the barrels and tanks and public displays to watch Octavia and Kali and Karma conveyor-belt food up their suction cups toward their mouths, beat with three hearts, unlock puzzles, and demonstrate intelligence, compassion, and personality akin to any human being.
But let's also pause right there, with human beings. Because, while Sy has always taken the time to introduce us to the other explorers and animal-kingdom lovers that she encounters in her wild adventures, we have never met characters quite like these—young people, older people, expert people, diving people, people with diagnoses, people with broken hearts, appreciating people. Sy's communities of octopus lovers are immaculately drawn. So much so that kindness (about which I was just recently musing, here) is as integral to this story as Sy's desire to understand octopus consciousness. Indeed, I would say the two are inextricable.
We can't help but love (even more) the wise and personality-prone octopus as we read (and finish) this book. We also can't help but love Sy.
I leave you with an early passage:
Perhaps, as we stroked her in the water, we entered into Athena's experience of time—liquid, slippery, and ancient, flowing at a different pace than any clock. I could stay here forever, filling my senses with Athena's strangeness and beauty, talking with my new friends.Congratulations, Sy.