One of the nicest surprises about writing World’s Strongest Librarian has been the eclectic range of people who show up and read it. Cal Smith sent me an email one day after reading one of my book reviews. Cal is the author of When Devil Fish Come Out To Play, Adventures Of An Abalone Diver. He complimented my reviewing skills and asked if I’d review his book.
I’m a vulture for compliments. It’s probably apparent by now that flattery gets you just about anything with me, so I agreed. Cal is a fascinating man. He’s in his mid 70s and published a bodybuilding magazine called Looking Good the year I was born. He is an avid racquetball player and weight-lifter. His time spent as an abalone diver makes for a book of some really scary and funny stories.
The main themes of this book are fear, adrenaline, and activism. His essays about activism on behalf of ocean life and its ecosystems were very moving and it’s obvious that this is a man who cares deeply. Most of the other stories involve Cal doing some sort of chore underwater, whether it’s abalone diving for money, searching for antique portholes, or engaging in an official Octopus wrestling contest. Things are always going well, and then they get bad quickly and he’s fighting for his life. Again.
He usually finds a way to mention how frightening it all is and constantly asks himself why he’s doing any of it.
I asked the same question. Full disclosure: I’m terrified of the ocean. I’m told that when I was two years old, my father and I nearly drowned in the Pacific after being pulled out too far. I don’t remember it, but my mother is convinced that’s where my phobia comes from. I’m able to wade a little bit, but the thought of running out further just shuts me down immediately. So I found the frightening stories in Devil Fish more visceral than you might.
For instance: Cal is diving at one point when an octopus appears and rips the mask off his face. In another story he talks about “playing” with an 8 foot Wolf Eel (a truly hideous looking creature) when a big octopus grabs his feet and holds him there while he tries to figure out how to keep the two animals away from each other so he doesn’t get caught in the middle of their fight.
This book was one of the nicest surprises I’ve had this year. The writing style is conversational and smart without getting into the heavy science of diving or being condescending.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. Cal is an amazing man from a generation that is hard for me not to admire. When Devil Fish Come Out To Play will make you laugh and shiver and, if you’re like me, validate all of your ocean phobias and convince you that dry land is the only place for the sane person.