Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Octopuses, Not Octopi
I got a lot from this book. More than ever would've imagined, in fact. First, and perhaps most important, it was explained to me that the plural of octopus is in fact OCTOPUSES rather than octopi. Something about Greek words and Latin endings not jiving together.
Now that that's out of the way, the meat of the book. Montgomery,
equal parts naturalist, philosopher, poet, and scientist, fell in love with octopuses. The genesis of the book was a 2011 piece she wrote for Orion magazine about her relationship with an octopus named Athena. Montgomery had a connection with the animal, a deeper one than she thought could exist, and the rest is history.
As she becomes continually more fascinated with octopuses, she begins spending significant amounts of time at the New England Aquarium. Not only does she observe and handle the octopuses--several over time as they have fairly short life spans--they're fond of reaching tentacles out of the water to taste the visitors to the tank, she befriends the aquariasts who take care of them, the myriad individuals who volunteer for the institution, and their family members beyond the watery walls.
As Montgomery observes and falls deeper in love with octopuses, she forges personal relationships with the animals and begins to grasp the breadth of their decision-making skills: from choosing the best camouflage to protect themselves from predators, to their deft escape artist tricks, and their love of tinkering to stave off boredom.
I am doing this book no justice, but it is a winning combination of memoir, journalism, and science. The research Montgomery presents, and the way she wears her love of animals on her sleeve, is absolutely charming. It won't be long before I listen to another of her books.