Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Book Review: Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller

NPR reporter Lulu Miller felt she'd made a mess of her life. Ever since she was a kid and asked her dad what was the meaning of life, and he'd answered "Nothing!" she'd felt unmoored, pointless, depressed. Her father had seen it as freedom, but she found it terrifying. She ran across a story of a man, David Starr Jordan, which inspired her, and she set out to find out more about him, hoping it would bring order to her chaotic life.
David Jordan was the first president of Stanford. He also was a taxinomist, identifying and naming a quarter of all the known species of fish in the world. By many counts, he'd been incredibly successful. But he'd also suffered many losses: his first wife, a beloved daughter, and his entire fish collection. The 1906 earthquake sent his fish collection crashing to the floor in a sea of broken glass, with the names of the fish floating unattached. It also set fires on campus and destroyed buildings, even unironically crashing a statue of Jordan's mentor headfirst into the ground. Yet he picked himself up and set right back to setting things straight. He not only saved a lot of his collection, he came up with a clever solution of sewing the name tags directly onto the fish, so they could never be separated again. How could someone face devastating losses and keep going, with cheer and energy, knowing it could happen again? This is what Lulu wanted to figure out.
But maybe that's not all that was going on with Mr. Jordan? In fact, maybe he wasn't someone to put on a pedestal at all. Maybe his way of thinking is just as flawed and problematic as all of us. And maybe, along the way, Lulu will find out more about herself. And maybe she'll figure out she doesn't need this man to emulate, this crutch, after all.
I bought this book from an independent bookstore.

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