Book Review: Washed Up

Washed Up:  The Curious Journeys Of Flotsam And Jetsam, by Skye Moody

I am by no means a proficient or particularly skilled beachcomber, but as a fond student of logistics [1], flotsam and jetsam (and lagan) are of some personal interest to me.  This book was a mixed bag for me.  Like the washed up remnants of whales or amber or cargo, this book has some worthy finds and some aspects that are just odd and strange and not particularly enjoyable.  I suppose if I was a part of the beachcombing community that the author represents herself as part of and who she seeks legitimacy from, I would have found this book to be more enjoyable and perhaps even endearing as a labor of love, but since I am not such a person and since I expected something that was more factual and less self-referential, I must admit that this book was a bit disappointing.  As is the case often in life and in reading, this book’s failings were a matter of improper expectations, and not really on anything that the author did wrong herself.  Had I been looking for a satirical and comical and personal look at oceanic junk, this book would have been more appreciated.

The slightly more than 200 pages of this book are made up of five chapters.  Before any of them is an introduction to the subject matter.  After this comes a discussion of the noble origins of flotsam in the shipping that has taken place over the last few centuries, which has encouraged the cargo cults of Oceania and other places.  The second chapter looks at what happens to goods that remain adrift at sea stuck in becalmed areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The third chapter looks at the evolution of flotsam over time.  After this the author discusses the science of flotsam and a the meanings and implications by what can be found on beaches.  After this comes some acknowledgements and suggestions for further reading for those who appreciate the author’s perspective.  This book was certainly alright, but not all of the jokes the author makes were appreciated and I’m not sure this is an author that I would ever read again.  I certainly have no plans to look out for her books and read them in the future, although if her other books are less jokey I might enjoy them a lot more.

Ultimately, this book is of most use to those who like collecting the junk that comes up on the beach.  In fact, this book may be described as a love letter to those who collect and study the waste of our logistical routes and who care about the damage that we are doing to the oceans as a result of our carelessness in shipping.  All of this is well and good, but the author spends too much time talking about her obsession with a rock, her visits to a therapist who seems bored to hear about her obsession with objects found on the beach, and making jokes about scaring guys away.  While all of these may be interesting to read for someone who already likes or appreciates the author, as someone who has no particular strong feelings for or against, I found the oversharing a bit off-putting and awkward.  The author does a good job at explaining and keeping track of the difference between flotsam (stuff that floats on the ocean), jetsam (stuff that falls off or is thrown off of boats), and lagan (stuff thrown off of boats that sinks to the bottom).  If you want a good exploration of sea junk and even space junk that becomes sea junk, this is a book that has some value even for those who are not won over by the author’s approach.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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