Ed Ward (captward) Tue 7 Jun 11 08:32
And a warm Inkwell welcome to Michael Scott Moore and his wonderful book "Sweetness and Blood"
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 7 Jun 11 08:36
I'll be leading the discussion. Ed Ward is a long-time journalist who's written predominantly about music, although never, to his recollection, surf music. He met Mike Moore in Berlin, where Mike was running a roundtable for bloggers, which has now expanded into a free-for-all gathering held irregularly. They immediately disagreed about Saul Bellow, and became friends. Ed now lives in Montpellier, France, where he's working on a book of social history and another on how not to expatriate.
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 7 Jun 11 08:38
Michael Scott Moore is a novelist and journalist from California, 2006-2007 Fulbright fellow in Berlin. "Too Much of Nothing" (2003) is a novel set in a fictional California beach town. This territory got raided a couple of years back by Thomas Pynchon's "Inherent Vice," but that's OK. "Sweetness and Blood" (2010) is a travel book about the spread of surfing to odd corners of the world, named a book of the year by Popmatters and The Economist. Former stage critic for SF Weekly, currently a European correspondent for Miller-McCune and editor-at-large for Spiegel Online in Berlin.
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 7 Jun 11 08:40
So, since this is a very annoying question, let's get it out of the way right here and now. Surfing isn't noted for producing a lot of great non-fiction writing. Or much fiction writing, either, although I'm a big Kem Nunn fan. Is this a valid attitude? Is there any writing on surfing you think is equal to -- or even better than -- your own that a non-surfer would enjoy reading?
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Tue 7 Jun 11 17:23
The obvious answer to that one is Tim Winton. He hasn't been relegated to a surf-writing ghetto like Kem Nunn, maybe because he's Australian. But he grew up in a working-class beach town in Australia in the 60s, and his novels about that time and place are terrific. "Breath" won an award a couple of years ago, so he gained some recognition outside Australia. But "The Turning," which is a linked collection of stories, affected me even more. Australia's big cities are all along the coast, so surfing there is a national sport. It's become a natural part of daily life, and Australians can talk about it without the 'Gidget' jokes. Which is what I like about "The Turning," by the way: It gives you the rhythm of an Australian surf town without being *about* surfing (the way "Breath" is). It's not an annoying question, by the way, because it oppressed me for a long time. As a kid I assumed my own material wasn't "literary." But that's received wisdom, and of course it's wrong.
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 8 Jun 11 08:18
Is this guy's stuff available in the States? Reason I ask, one of the Well folks has been living in Australia for some months now and is always posting recommendations of Australian books that nobody can find in the States. Which is kind of odd. You can always say that low sales of books leaves very little money for translation of literary stuff, but Australians speak English! Well, almost. Also, I thought if Nunn was going to be relegated to a ghetto, it'd be noir. So your requirement for a literary surfing piece is an acknowledgement of place and making it palpable in the work? (He asked, beginning to turn the discussion to Sweetness and Blood).
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Wed 8 Jun 11 22:54
"Breath" should be available in the States. I think my editions of his books are British, but I'd be surprised if "The Turning" were unavailable in the US. Also: Pynchon lived in Manhattan Beach (where I went to high school) while he worked on "Gravity's Rainbow," and he finally broke down and wrote a surf-noir novel about the place. But I suspect he was stoned while he wrote "Inherent Vice." I don't impose any special requirements -- character and story have to be vivid in any good piece of writing. So does setting, and for me it was always a huge disappointment that writers for surf magazines could travel to such exotic parts of the world and come home with articles that told you nothing serious about the places or the people.
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 9 Jun 11 09:12
I think Pynchon writes stoned, which accounts for his uncanny replication of the wow! This is a good idea! Except it's fading... feeling of being stoned. His later stuff irritates me. And I'm not sure the not-noticing thing is only for surfers. I've got a friend going around the world right now, and she posts on her blog, but doesn't seem to notice much except the tourist spots her Lonely Planets point her to. She doesn't eat the local food, can't speak the local languages, and sticks with those who are like her. Somehow Americans abroad are like that, writers and non-writers. I can see not putting much info into a surf magazine article on, oh, Santa Cruz, but to go to some of the lesser-known (but well-enough known that you omitted them) international surf hot-spots and not clue people in is criminal. While you were researching the book, though, you showed me what purported to be a serious Surfing Journal or something. Is even that publication so tunnel-visioned? And, although it's almost a dumb question to ask, what international, non-U.S., surfing destinations did you skip? Which, I guess, is asking what your criteria for inclusion you applied to the places you did go were.
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Thu 9 Jun 11 12:48
Actually Surfers Journal is a good magazine that tries to bring strong intelligent writing to the sport. But travel is so vital to surfing that I'm surprised no one thought to write a book like mine before I did. The point of Sweetness and Blood is culture clash -- how did modern surfing get to these far-flung places, and how does it mix? I decided to skip the most obvious countries like Mexico or Brazil, South Africa or France. I wanted countries would be surprising even to some surfers, like Germany. And I looked for countries with a good "creation myth," a good story of the sport's arrival. In Morocco and Japan the first surfers were U.S. servicemen stationed near good waves after World War II. As I say in the book, American pop culture arrived in those places by force of arms. Indonesia is famous for its waves, so I almost left it off the list, but the culture clash there, and the creation myth, were too strong.
die die must try (debbie) Thu 9 Jun 11 13:47
I'm American and living in Australia (and suggesting books people can't find) - it is very interesting to see how surfing fits in here - it isn't so much a sport as a way of life - I just saw a great documentary about the Bra Brothers (Bra being short for Maroubra, a ocean side suburb of Sydney) - kids who had no hope/no parenting, were taken in and surfing replaced alcohol, drugs and fighting. When there were race riots in Cronulla, that centered on beach culture, the Bra boys stood up for the Lebanese and made public statements of inclusion. I like Nunn, have not fallen in love with Winton, will try again. Your book sounds interesting, does not appear to be in my local libraries yet.
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 9 Jun 11 14:44
No Australian edition? Are your publishers mad?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 9 Jun 11 21:15
liked kem nunn up until 'dogs of winder'; loved daniel duane's 'caught inside' (for nonfiction); read don winslow for socal surf noir; and weirdly it was reading the catalog copy/product romance for 'territory ahead' clothing that alerted me to global surf culture
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Fri 10 Jun 11 10:21
I've seen Bra Boys -- good film. What's interesting is that surfing catches on at different social levels in different countries. It started as a a working-class thing in Australia, a middle-class thing in California, and a chic fashionable thing in France. Wherever it goes, though, it becomes a mark of local authenticity. I never questioned that in California, and of course not in Hawaii. But when Cornish or Moroccan kids learn to surf, for example, they start to cop the same attitude. Or Israeli or Balinese kids. Once the sport takes hold it's just a matter of time before some local hotshots start to act like they belong, with their boards and their gear, while other people don't. I thought that was funny. But it shows how surfing is really an international sport like soccer -- universal and intensely local at the same time.
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Fri 10 Jun 11 10:26
@Ed: They're not mad; in fact we're still hoping for an Australian edition. But it's up to the agents and not the publisher.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 10 Jun 11 12:13
reminds me of how when i moved to nyc in 1983 and met a fellow who grew up in alex baldwin's hometown on south shore of long island --- who among other accomplishments was also a surfer --- and i was floored. i grew up in socal and had lived in the bay area for a decade --- and it had never occured to me that someone from massapequa (sp?) could be a surfer...
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 10 Jun 11 12:25
Maybe Lon Gisland for Son of Sweetness? Is there anyplace you wanted to go for this book that you couldn't? Why couldn't you, if so, and where was it/why did you want to go?
die die must try (debbie) Fri 10 Jun 11 18:27
That is interesting about how it is different classes in different countries. Do you think it is a sport like other sports though, or something more? It seems to me, at least for some people, it is a whole identity in a way that other sports don't seem to be.
Ed Ward (captward) Sat 11 Jun 11 03:51
As a non-surfer -- and I'm curious what Mike'll say about this -- to me it seems to be the only solo sport which offers a kind of transcendent relationship to nature, harnessing forces you can in no way control. Mike?
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Sat 11 Jun 11 04:21
I think the relationship to nature is one reason for the "lifestyle" or identity that comes along with surfing. You have to learn certain universal rules about the ocean to master the sport, a certain respect. That's why the surf community is so strong no matter how diffuse it becomes. But every good surf break also has quirky conditions that give locals automatic authority. The connection to a natural, specific stretch of sand could explain why surfing becomes such a local cult wherever it goes. It's connected with Cornish nationalism in the UK (Cornwall has always resented interlopers from London), Berber nationalism in Morocco (at least in the south, where Berber feeling is strong) and Irish nationalism in Ireland. In Israel and Gaza, though, it's becoming a force for peace, because Israeli surfers have tried to break the blockade with donations of surf equipment for Palestinians on Gaza Beach. So there's something subversive and anti-authoritarian about surfing, too. It inspires a sense of self-reliance and it tends to confuse the dominant local authorities (like Hamas in Gaza, or the government in Cuba).
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Sat 11 Jun 11 04:24
Ireland, by the way, is one country I wish I'd visited for the book. The waves are terrific on the west coast, and Irish surfers are fairly hardcore (since the water's cold). The UK has less interesting surf, but a more colorful early history -- starting with an Italian ice-cream vendor on the Cornish seashore in the 1930s -- and, of course, Captain Cook. He and his men were the first Europeans to see surfing in Hawaii, since they stumbled upon the islands in the 1700s. They may have even been the first Europeans to surf.
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Sat 11 Jun 11 04:29
Another country I wanted to visit was Peru, because fishermen there were using horse-shaped surf boats made from thick reeds as long as 3,000 years ago. People can stand on them now, and ride pretty big waves, so some people think the Peruvians deserve credit for developing the sport outside Hawaii. But the boats were probably used mainly for fishing, not for festival contests and pure fun, like Hawaiian surfboards. I mention Peruvian surf boats in the book, but I could have written a whole chapter on Peru.
Gail Williams (gail) Sat 11 Jun 11 15:37
That sounds amazing, too. Really enjoying this, though I do not (so far) have a copy of the book. I would say, in reply to what Ed asked about danger and transcendence, that my family has always been involved in mountain wilderness sports, and that kayaking a wild river or solo climbing a remote mountain can bring on a soul-stirring dance with nature too. I don't know much about the history of sport, but are there any other ancient sports from anywhere that you see as having some commonality with surfing then or now?
Michael Scott Moore (mikesmoore) Sun 12 Jun 11 01:18
Well, soccer is similar. There were ancient forms of "football" in China and South America, but the sport you see on TV was standardized by the British and carried around the world by their empire. But there's no link between the far-flung ancient sports and the rules that developed in Britain (as far as I know). So the analogy I give in my book is actually with the blues and rock 'n' roll. America didn't invent surfing; but it came to America and became something modern and rebellious and new, just like the blues came to America and electrified. During the 60s, in both cases, they rocketed around the world. The strange part is that American missionaries almost snuffed out surfing in Hawaii during the 19th century. Too much naked frolicking in the dangerous waves. In a few cases they turned old surfboards into schooldesks.
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 12 Jun 11 07:03
Readers of this interview who aren't on the Well can send Mike questions via firstname.lastname@example.org and they'll get posted here with alarming speed.
Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Sun 12 Jun 11 15:00
I am enjoying this book, I'm up to Japan; it is making me hungry!
the view from prescription hill (cjb) Sun 12 Jun 11 16:53
I'm also enjoying the book; I'm nearing the last page. Will save my comments, recollections, and questions until I've finished it.
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