The library classification data for The Outlaw Ocean suggests categories like Fisheries-Corrupt practices, Travel, Special interest, Adventure, True Crime. All of these seem correct and yet none of them seems right.
This is just over 400 pages long – with another hundred pages of notes (sources, readings, digressions) and more than ten pages of recommended reading. Based on four years of reporting and thousands of hours of interviews: each of these fifteen chapters reads like a condensed book. It took me more than six weeks to read, alongside other books (of course).
The idea behind my #ReadTheChange project for this year is to select a few books which I suspect will change my understanding of the world. Based on a personal recommendation from a trusted venue or reading friend, like the New York Times Book Review podcast. That’s how I learned about Ian Urbina’s reporting so I was anticipating a couple of the topics; I hadn’t anticipated how engrossing each of them would become for me.
Initially, I was concerned about my inherent resistance to learning about subjects which cut close to the heart; now I am concerned as to whether any other book I choose for this project will measure up to this one. In a couple of instances, had I known what the next topic would have been, I might have been tempted to skip it; once I’d begun reading, I couldn’t stop.
It’s clear that at least some of this compulsion is fuelled by curiosity, which is intensified via the writer’s experience of surprise. For instance: “Even though I had reported on quite a few grim industries over the years (coal mining, long-haul trucking, sex work, garment and glue factories), I was still stunned by the conditions on fishing boats.”
Yup, that’s right. At one point, he remarks on a study (from 2012, via the Philippine embassy in Singapore) which reports more requests from Filipino men to investigate trafficking off fishing vessels than requests from the women reporting from the notoriously abusive s*x and nightlife entertainment industry for women. So, what does that tell you about what you know about fisheries?
Perhaps more to the point: now that you do know, do you care?
This is a question the author posed as well, wrestling with the question of whether anyone really wants to read and know this: “Still, I clung to the hope that by my putting the information out there, other people might use it somehow to change things. Deep down inside, though, I wondered if these were legitimate motivations or professional delusions.”
He also wonders whether it’s fair to share these stories, which are often miserable, to ask questions which force survivors to revisit their trauma: “…I resigned myself to the idea that the only thing worse than telling a tale of abuse over and over again was not telling it at all.”
Along the way there are many opportunities to absorb facts and receive anecdotes. I learned, for instance, that the Great Barrier Reef grows at the rate of about a half inch each year (now occupying an area equivalent to the state of Pennsylvania, after about 600,000 years), that there are more species on two acres of that space than there are bird species on the whole continent of North America, and that it’s a zero waste situation (in which every organism’s waste plays an integral role in another organism’s survival).
But, actually, this book has virtually nothing to do with the Great Barrier Reef; this is just one of those along-the-way subjects, which surfaces in a single page’s contextual material, on another topic and another continent. So, I’m sharing this discovery more to demonstrate that the density of information has a wholly satisfying and almost overwhelming reach to it.
The supplementary material at the end of the book offers substantive suggestions for engaged readers to take their new knowledge forward, to enact change.
I could read on this topic for the rest of this year, but I’ve got a few library records earmarked for other issues to explore.
What are you reading that is changing your world?