Coming to the Festival of Books: Mark Kurlansky
Mark Kurlansky, the author of "Salt," has also written several books about fish, the oceans and how we relate to the sea: "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," "The Big Oyster" and "The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America’s Oldest Port and Most Original Town." (He's also written about baseball, most recently in "Hank Greenberg: A Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One"; he's a busy guy.)
He'll be at the Festival of Books on Saturday speaking on the panel "Boiling Point: Climate, Population, & Environment."
Jacket Copy: You've written a number of books about fish and our relationship to them. What draws you back to the subject?
Mark Kurlansky: I don't know what drew me there in the first place. Why does a Jewish kid from Hartford raised in a most un-maritime family feel compelled to go to sea on fishing boats as a teenager? I was always drawn to the sea and don’t like to be in landlocked places. Working on fishing boats gave me a great fondness for fisherman and fishing ports. I always seek them out. The sea, which is beautiful and mysterious, is the least-known and least-studied part of the planet -- seductive and intriguing and also, of course, dangerous, and in a lot of trouble.
JC: In "The World Without Fish: How Kids Can Help Save the Oceans," you take some themes you've touched on before -- fish, fishing, sustainability and our oceans -- and address them to children. How did you make the subject approachable?
MK: Because of all the books I have done related to this topic I have traveled all over the country talking to adults and children in schools about what is happening in the oceans and I have found two things. There are a lot of people who are really concerned, kids in particular, and there is complete confusion and misunderstanding. This is partly because it is a very complicated problem and partly because fishermen, regulators and biologists all talk in extremely inaccessible language, full of inside codes and assumptions. I set out to explain the whole thing in simple, clear language, step by step, starting with Charles Darwin, who explained the natural order we are trying to deal with. I use careful explained biology, politics, economics. I use text and pictures and a graphic novel that puts it in human terms. I tell what is happening, what will happen if we don’t fix it, how we are trying to fix it, what the problems are and what concerned individuals can do about it.
JC: You're also the author of "Food of a Younger Land." Do you consider yourself a foodie?
MK: I once wrote an essay that began by saying that you never know when you are well off. I always saw something negative in being called a gourmet, but now that they use the word foodie, that must be something even worse. I am fascinated by food history, food anthropology, food sociology. Food is a favorite device of mine for illuminating characters in my fiction writing. I love recipes as artifacts for the clues to society and history they hold. But I never actually use recipes when I am cooking. Discussions of food that are truly about nothing but food strike me as profoundly boring. I am the worst person to ask for a restaurant tip because I don't think about it very much. And I find it bad manners to criticize food at the table. So you'll have to decide whether or not I am a foodie.
JC: Are you looking forward to anything in particular at the Festival of Books this year?
MK: There is always someone I admire that I have never heard before, and lots of old friends, and the reassuring sight of thousands who seem passionate about books.
JC: Is there anything you plan to do in Los Angeles while you're here, apart from the Festival of Books?
MK: I wish I had time to see an old friend or two as I speedily pass through.
Tickets for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books panels will be available through Eventbrite beginning Sunday, April 24, at 9 a.m. Look in Sunday's paper for a pullout print schedule of the event.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Mark Kurlansky with his daughter and a fish. Credit: Workman Publishing