How Far the Light ReachesPosted: January 24, 2023
How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures
read by the author
Little, Brown & Company (December 06, 2022), 5 hours and 41 minutes
$25.96 for Audible members, more for nonmembers
purchased with an Audible credit
In How Far the Light Reaches Sabrina Imbler has compiled a series of essays that constitute both a memoir and a sort of bestiary of sea creatures. Each essay describes one aspect of life in the ocean and also some part of the author’s (or their family’s) life. (Imbler identifies as non-binary and I use their pronouns of choice.)
Imbler describes a vigilante crusade to go to Petco and persuade customers not to buy goldfish and subject them to life in a small bowl. They then discuss what happens if you flush a goldfish down the toilet or throw it into a pond or stream. Surprisingly, the goldfish will thrive. It will thrive, in fact, to the point of becoming invasive in its new environment.
In an essay about the longest-known animal gestation, an octopus who carried her eggs for over four years, Imbler writes about their mother’s struggle with weight loss. An essay on another invasive species, the sturgeon, also describes their grandmother’s escape from China when invaded by Japan.
Mostly, though, Imbler writes about their own life. In an essay about the sand striker (also known as the bobbit worm) the author describes how men took sexual advantage of them when they were binging on alcohol. Imbler takes the opportunity here to write about social justice. They write they are neither willing to blame the men nor excuse them on account of the system in which they were instilled:
Almost every system we exist in is cruel, and it is our job to hold ourselves accountable to a moral center separate from the arbitrary ganglion of laws that so often get things wrong. This is the work we inherit as creatures with a complex brain, which comes with … the duty of empathy, of understanding what it means when someone is stumbling.
A long essay on how humans kill whales, or how whales sometimes simply beach themselves, describes how scientists do a whale necrology and how they write up those necrologies. Imbler explains they took a class on whales thinking it would be about whale biology and life cycle, when it was actually about whaling, much to their consternation. The author interweaves their own necrology on a failed relationship with a woman, that woman being the reason they signed up for the class in the first place.
Imbler is candid about their own relationship struggles. In an essay about the cuttlefish and how it can change its appearance, Imbler suggests they may have spent too much time changing their appearance to please a partner. Describing a tiny sea creature that travels in swarms Imbler writes about their own participation in the New York City lesbian community.
I enjoyed listening to Imbler’s voice reading these essays, but I am not unequivocally recommending the audiobook version. The print and e-book version contain line drawings which (obviously) are missing from the audiobook. And Imbler’s writing is so vivid and evocative that seeing it on the page or e-book screen is likely to be an equally marvelous experience.
The bottom line is this: If you are interested in marine biology, or if you care about the experience of gay and transgender people, or if you believe in humans looking out for one another, then How Far the Light Reaches should be on your reading (or listening) list.