Water. It’s almost everywhere. Approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water. Human adults are around 55 – 60% water (Baby humans — 78%!!!). Even beer is mostly water (90 – 95%, by most estimates — more than babies!!!). So, it should come as no surprise that water also permeates the written word in similar proportions.
Water as setting (“The Old Man and the Sea“). Water as antagonist (“Wave“). Water as plot (“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn“). Water is even a key factor in books where there is little of it — water scarcity is an integral part of “Dune“. “Desert Solitaire’s” longest chapter is devoted to a river journey through Glen Canyon before a portion of it was turned into a lake. Water.
Water’s role in stories cuts across genres and forms. How many romance novels are set on a beach? How many horror novels have otherworldly creatures emerging from the murky depths? You can get lost at sea in a lyrical ballad from 1789, or its musical interpretation from 1984. You can listen to a contemporary take on a sea song, or immerse yourself in a book of old ones.
Water’s role in literature is ever expansive. You never know how it might factor into a story you’re reading. You might even say that there are, ahem, Oceans of Possibilities. So let’s explore a small sampling of excellent books where water is a key ingredient in their stories.
Why do we, land-locked lifeforms that can’t breath in water, gravitate towards it? “Why We Swim” explores this fascination through memoir, history mythology and science.
“Skinny Dip” is another installment of humorous social commentary from Carl Hiassen. It begins with a woman shoved overboard into the ocean by her husband, and follows a circuitous route to a scheme involving tampered water samples and the endangered Everglades.
An accomplished journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker writes about his lifelong obsession with surfing in “Barbarian Days.” This engrossing book is part memoir, travelogue and window into the sport of surfing.
In “The Kraken Wakes” strange red objects fall from the sky into the deepest parts of the ocean all across the planet. People start to realize, perhaps too late, how important what happens down below is to what happens up above.
In “Low” millions of years after humankind fled the earth’s surface and colonized the deep ocean, a probe returns with hope of a habitable planet. Retrieval of the probe requires a dangerous journey to the surface.
“The Underwater Welder” suggests parallels between the intense pressure of the deep sea, and the pressure of impending fatherhood. Oh, there’s also something supernatural on the ocean floor.
“Riverman” investigates the story of a man who canoed thousands of miles of American rivers alone, what motivated his journeys, and the lives he touched along the way.