Book Review: 'Moby-Duck' by Donovan Hohn

BooksKristina PinoComment

We're a little short on adventure these days. When the world is on charts and traversing it costs a lot more money than we can afford most of the time, we turn to stories of the thrills of adventurers past and watch fantastical movies of adventures in some other time and place. But even today there are some lucky (or foolish) people going on their own odysseys, for whatever reason they may.

Donovan Hohn was teaching when he learned about a big spill that sent thousands of bath toys adrift at sea. It is then his adventures begin, though he didn't know it at the time, with a little research dappling here and there, a few calls, and soon after a plane ticket to Alaska (leaving a pregnant wife behind, later his wife and young son, who both stuck with him throughout this entire thing). His adventures took him far and wide, even to Hawaii, Hong Kong and the Arctic. All for a little rubber duckie.

Moby-Duck is written from a more Anthropological perspective: one of an outsider that is throwing himself into something, learning on the go and then explaining it to us laypersons in the way an investigative journalist would. You can feel the author's inquisitiveness, feel his doubts and feel when he runs into pitfalls or triumphs. You'll sit there learning about oceanography, driftology and toy-making without feeling like you're sitting through a boring lecture. You'll also laugh the entire way through, thanks to Hohn's clever word-smithing, absolute honesty and use of pop culture references throughout.

As you would imagine by the title Moby-Duck, the book also makes a lot of references to the well-known Moby-Dick. Most folks who pick up the former probably won't have read the latter, but that's alright. You'll still get it. Somehow, it relates to the story, as well as author's life.

It's easy to get sucked into the book, though I found myself taking frequent breaks to look up word meanings or various people who Hohn encounters throughout the story. I actually found that I'd known about some of these folks, as he dealt with myriad subjects in his quest for the toys. Subjects including what I mentioned earlier (such as Oceanography), but also that of plastic pollution, the study and prevention of it, and more. More importantly, Moby-Duck doesn't turn into a book that shames you into feeling guilty about not recycling or things like that. Instead, Hohn simply provides the information he learns along the way without judgment of the reader or the world in general. You're learning along with him.

I found out about this book via NPR's Top of 2011 book lists. Moby-Duck made it into this section, and I was immediately drawn in by the quick summary I read on the page. How could a book about rubber bath toys (particularly ducks) be so intriguing to make this list? The answer is, it's some of the best (and more surprising) creative nonfiction out there.

[book image via Donovan Hohn's web page]

[buy Moby-Duck on Amazon]