A Year in Reading: Joseph McElroy

December 10, 2010 | 1 2 min read


coverFar and near, the book that has meant the most to me these past twelve months is Rachel Carson’s The Edge of the Sea. Published first in 1955 it’s been on my shelves ever since and reread and reread, so that rereading itself is in its meaning for me – the familiarity yet the new knowledge because the reader has changed becomes all over again a way of reading Life. Now a central text for my understanding of the coast, the meeting of sea and land, in a non-fiction book of my own about water almost completed after six years but in my thoughts maybe most of my life, Carson’s beautifully observant and far-reaching thoughts on limpets, winged kelp, the V-shaped tracks that indicate the presence nearby of the heart urchin, the infinitesimal capillary sheaths of water protecting each grain of sand like the exact narrative of a great patient writer and walker, the overwhelming abundance before us of growth and passage, transparence, smell, hiddenness, sound, are also the layers of slow time, millions of intricate years. And if in 1955 the ancient rhythms of rising and falling sea levels join past and future, this voice of a scientist- philosopher-poet-prophet go on telling us what we have to lose. And how we are dual and coastal, amphibious nomads in what we are able to think about and value if we only will, and are losing. Rachel Carson’s books, like Silent Spring (that blew the whistle on how we poison our Earth), have been dangerous for those who profit from not caring about our Nature, but so far not dangerous enough if we witness, as we must, corporate sponsored pollution embracing air, river, sea, sunlight, and the lying that threatens our very language. She reminds me again of what I almost didn’t know I knew.

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’s Night Soul and Other Stories is just out from Dalkey Archive, also Preparations For Search (Small Anchor). The author of nine novels, including Women and Men, Lookout Cartridge, and Actress in the House, he has just completed a non-fiction book about water.