How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures, by Sabrina Imbler
Topics: Nature, Science, Body Image, Disordered Eating, Chosen Family, Coming-of-Age, Gender, Sexuality, Race
Memoirs with Melissa shares bimonthly reviews intended to expose readers to diverse authors and life experiences. To see more of what I’ve read and what I’d like to read next, browse my virtual memoir shelf on Goodreads.
This week’s memoir review exists thanks to my writing mentor and the NPR Science Friday episode to which she alerted me. Nature and books are what we do in my chosen family. So, Sabrina Imbler’s new memoir in essays, braided with facts about fascinating sea creatures I’ve never heard of before, was an immediate add to my to-be-read shelf.
Listening to the author read the audio version brought these essays to life, as if I’d opted for the living, breathing form of the book. As with many memoiristic essays, they’re deeply personal. They plumb the author’s experience with body image, family, and identity. But part of the genius of Imbler’s work is the way they weave the personal with dimensions of nature I might never have considered myself connected.
The title of the book is derived, as Imbler notes in the acknowledgements, from the vertical zones of the ocean, which are divided by how far light reaches. Starting with the common goldfish, Imbler takes readers on a journey through progressively more obscure specimens of aquatic life. They draw unlikely parallels between humans and cuttlefish, sperm whales, and even tiny blobs called salps.
Part of the genius of Imbler’s work is the way they weave the personal with dimensions of nature I might never have considered myself connected.
Likewise, Imbler shines a light on their own experiences: from growing up being told what they should want, to grappling with their mixed racial identity and making their way in the world as a person who is queer. You don’t have to be a marine biologist to appreciate Imbler’s investigations into sea creatures, nor do you have to be queer or multiracial to appreciate their experiences with sexuality, gender, and race. “If You Flush a Goldfish” convinced me not to gift a fish tank to my 11-year-old child, even though he wants one so badly. “My Mother and the Starving Octopus” dredged up feelings around parenthood and standards of beauty I’ve absorbed from the culture around me. “Pure Life” made me fall in love with the yeti crab, a deep sea creature who thrives on crushing pressure and oppressive darkness and literally dances at the mouth of hydrothermal vents in order to live.
This holiday season, I challenge my readers to venture outside their traditional genres and topics. How Far the Light Reaches is a great place to start. Sabrina Imbler has gifted us all something entirely new to explore.
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Follow this author on Twitter at @aznfusion and read more of their work at https://simbler.github.io/clips/.
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