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Friday, August 10, 2012

What's read cannot be unread

This is exactly how I feel about certain books. What has been read cannot be unread.

You know the ones. The tomes you pick up on a whim, find deeply engrossing but forever leave their mark on you - like a brand.

For me that book was Peter Benchley's Jaws. No, not the film (that would come later) but the images conjured up by the words on the pages.

At the time I was a well-read 10-year-old who loved nothing better than swimming in the ocean with my beach-loving cousins. By the end of that book I was a shore-loving shark-phobic junior burger with a 'wisdom' beyond my years.

I had plucked the offending book from my uncle's bookshelf one summer holiday, desperate for something to read and morbidly drawn by the chilling cover, which showed a bikini-clad woman frolicking in the ocean and the mother-of-all fish with pointy teeth looming up beneath her.

Decades later I still find it hard to swim in the ocean, wondering what could be swimming just below my furiously paddling legs, and whether or not it's true that sharks often mistake us for seals, or whether they can sense fear and vulnerability (and if, as recent studies would have us believe, they really do hunt like serial killers!).

The fact that Benchley could tap into such a primal fear so deeply and so well speaks volumes about his skill as an author - not just as a wordsmith spinning verbage for the page, but also to his skill in selecting a subject that could resonate so deeply and for so long with such a big audience.

So big an audience that it's rumoured the author made enough money on the book, film adaptation/rights and syndication that he was able to live off the proceeds quite well for 10 years!

The words didn't come easily for Benchley, then a magazine feature writer - his first 100 pages were rejected and he had to go back to the drawing board - but come they eventually did, thanks to the guiding hand of editors at Doubleday Books.

The book was inspired by several very real sharks caught in the 1960s off Long Island and Block Island by the Montauk charterboat captain Frank Mundus, who was also supposedly the inspiration for the main character, shark hunter Quint.

Here be monsters indeed...

By RR with No comments


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