âHow many ways can you describe a wave? Youâll never get tired of watching Finnegan do it. A staff writer atÂ The New Yorker, he leads a counterlife as an obsessive surfer, traveling around the world, throwing his vulnerable, merely human body into line after line of waves in search of transient moments of graceâŚItâs an occupation that has never before been described with this tenderness and deftness.ââTIME Magazine, Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2015
âA hefty masterpiece.”âGeoff Dyer, The Guardian
âTerrificâŚElegantly written and structured, itâs a riveting adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, and a restless, searching meditation on love, friendship and familyâŚA writer of rare subtlety and observational gifts, Finnegan explores every aspect of the sport â its mechanics and intoxicating thrills, its culture and arcane tribal codes â in a way that should resonate with surfers and non-surfers alike. His descriptions of some of the worldâs most powerful and unforgiving waves are hauntingly beautifulâŚFinnegan displays an honesty that is evident throughout the book, parts of which have a searing, unvarnished intensity that reminded me of âStop Time,â the classic coming-of-age memoir by Frank Conroy.ââWashington Post
âThe kind of book that makes you squirm in your seat on the subway, gaze out the window at work, and Google Map the quickest route to the beach. In other words, it is, like Jon Krakauerâs Into the Wild, a semi-dangerous book, one that persuades young menâŚto trade in their office jobs in order to roam the world, to feel the oceanâs power, and chase the waves.ââThe Paris Review Daily
âFans of [Finneganâs] writing have been waiting eagerly for his surfing memoirâŚWell, Barbarian Days is here. And itâs even better than one could have imaginedâŚThis is Finneganâs gift. Heâs observant and expressive but shows careful restraint in his zeal. He says only what needs to be said, enough to create a vivid picture for the reader while masterfully giving that picture a kind of movement.ââHonolulu Star-Advertiser
âThat surfing life is [Finneganâs], and itâs a remarkably adventurous one sure to induce wanderlust in anyone who follows along, surfer or notâŚLyrical but not overbaked, exciting but always self-effacing. It captures the moments of joy and terror Finneganâs lifelong passion has brought him, as well as his occasional ambivalence about the tenacious hold it has on him. Itâs easily the best book ever written about surfing. Itâs not even close.ââFlorida Times-Union
âAn engrossing read, part treatise on wave physics, part thrill ride, part cultural study, with a soupĂ§on of near-death events. Even for those whoâve never paddled out, Finneganâs imagery is as vividly rendered as a film, his explanation of wave mastery a triumph of language. For surfers, the book is The Endless Summer writ smarter and larger, touching down at every iconic break.âÂ âLos Angeles Magazine
âVivid and propulsiveâŚFinneganâŚhas seen things from the tops of ocean peaks that would disturb most surfersâ dreams for weeks. (I happily include myself among that number.)âŚA lyrical and enormously rewarding readâŚFinneganâs enchantment takes us to some luminous and unsettling places â on both the edge of the ocean, and the frontiers of the surfing life.ââSan Diego Union-Tribune
âBarbarian Days gleams with precise, often lyrical recollections of the most memorable waves [Finnegan has] encounteredâŚHe carefully mines his surfing exploits for broader, hard-won insights on his childhood, his most intense friendships and romances, his political education, his career. Heâs always attuned to his surroundings, and his reflections are often tinged with self-effacing wit.ââChicago Reader
âExtraordinaryâŚ[ Barbarian Days] is in many ways, and for the first time, a surfer in full. And it is cause for throwing your wet-suit hoods in the airâŚIf the book has a flaw, it lies in the envy helplessly induced in the armchair surf-Âtraveler by so many lusty affairs with waves that are the supermodels of the surf world. Still, Finnegan considerately shows himself paying the price of admission in a few near drownings, and these are among the most electrifying moments in the bookâŚThere are too many breathtaking, original things in Barbarian Days to do more than mention hereâobservations about surfing that have simply never been made before, or certainly never so well.ââThe New York Times Book Review
âWhich is precisely what makes the propulsive precision of Finneganâs writing so surprising and revelatoryâŚ Finneganâs treatment of surfing never feels like performance. Through the sheer intensity of his descriptive powers and the undeniable ways in which surfing has shaped his life, Barbarian Days is an utterly convincing study in the joy of treating seriously an unserious thingâŚAs Finnegan demonstrates, surfing, like good writing, is an act of vigilant noticing. ââThe New York Review of BooksÂ
âGorgeously written and intensely feltâŚWith Mr. Finneganâs bravura memoir, the surfing bookshelf is dramatically enriched. Itâs not only a volume for followers of the sport. Non-surfers, too, will be treated to a travelogue head-scratchingly rich in obscure, sharply observed destinationsâŚDare I say that we all need Mr. FinneganâŚas a role model for a life fully, thrillingly, lived.ââWall Street Journal
âFinnegan writes so engagingly that you paddle alongside, eager for him to take you to the next waveâŚIt is a wet and wild run. He makes surfing seem as foreign and simultaneously as intimate a sport as possibleâŚSurfing is the backbone of the book, but Finneganâs relationships to people, not waves, form its fleshâŚ[A] deep blue story of one manâs lifelong enchantment.ââBoston Globe
âFinnegan is an excellent surfer; at some point he became an even better writer. That pairing makesÂ Barbarian DaysÂ exceptional in the notoriously foamy genre of surf lit: a hefty, heavyweight tour de force, overbrimming with sublime lyrical passages that Finnegan drops as effortlessly as he executed his signature âdrop-knee cutbackâ in the breaks off WaikikiâŚReading this guy on the subject of waves and water is like reading Hemingway on bullfighting; William Burroughs on controlled substances; Updike on adulteryâŚFinnegan is a virtuoso wordsmith, but the juice propelling this memoir is wrung from the quest that shaped himâŚA piscine, picaresque coming-of-age story, seen through the gloss resin coat of a surfboard.ââSports Illustrated
âOverflowing with vivid descriptions of waves caught and waves missed, of disappointments and ecstasies and gargantuan curling tubes that encircle riders like cathedrals of pure stained glassâŚThese paragraphs, with their mix of personal remembrance and subcultural taxonomies, tend to be as elegant and pellucid as the breakers they immortalizeâŚThis memoir is one you can ride all the way to shore.ââEntertainment Weekly
âAn evocative, profound and deeply moving memoirâŚThe proof is in the sentences. Were I given unlimited space to review this book, I would simply reproduce it here, with a quotation mark at the beginning and another at the end. While surfers have a reputation for being inarticulate, there is actually a fair amount of overlap between what makes a good surfer and a good writer. A smooth style, an ability to stay close to the source of the energy, humility before the task, and, once youâre done, not claiming your ride. In other words, making something exceedingly difficult look easy. The gift for writing a clean line is rare, and the gift for riding one even rarer. Finnegan possesses both.ââSan Francisco Chronicle
âFinneganâs epic adventure, beautifully told, is much more than the story of a boy and his wave, even if surfing serves as the thumping heartbeat of his life.ââDallas Morning News
âWithout a doubt, the finest surf book Iâve ever readâŚ All this technical mastery and precise description goes hand in hand with an unabashed, infectious earnestness. Finnegan has certainly written a surfing book for surfers, but on a more fundamental level, âBarbarian Daysâ offers a cleareyed vision of American boyhood. Like Jon Krakauerâs âInto the Wild,â it is a sympathetic examination of what happens when literary ideas of freedom and purity take hold of a young mind and fling his body out into the far reaches of the world.ââJay Caspian Kang, The New York Times Magazine
âThatâs always Finneganâs M.O.: examining the ways in which surfing intertwines with anthropology, economics, politics, and, of course, writing. Finnegan is a sober, straightforward author, but the level of detail, emotion, and insight he achieves is unparalleledâŚA must-read for all surfers â not just because of its unblinking prose and subtle wit, but because itâs the only book that properly details what itâs like to cultivate both an award-winning career and a dedicated surfing life.ââEastern Surf MagazineÂ
â[A] sweeping, glorious memoirâŚOh, the rides, they are incandescentâŚIâd sooner press this book upon on a nonsurfer, in part because nothing Iâve read so accurately describes the feeling of being stoked or the despair of being held under. But also because while it is a book about âA Surfing LifeââŚitâs also about a writerâs life and, even more generally, a questerâs life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any Iâve read in a long time.ââLos Angeles Times
âFinnegan describes, with shimmering detail, his adventures riding waves on five continents. Surfing has taken him places he’d never otherwise have thought to go, but it also buoyed him through a career reporting on the politics of intense scarcity, limitless cruelty, and unimaginable suffering. It’s a book about travel and growing up, and the power of a pastime when it becomes an obsession.ââMenâs Journal
âWith a compelling storyline and masterful prose, FinneganâsÂ beautiful memoir is sure to resonate.ââThe New York Observer
âFearless and full of grace.ââBob Shacochis, Outside MagazineÂ
âIrresistible.ââO, The Oprah Magazine
âA demonstration of gratitude and mastery. [Finnegan] uses these words to describe the wave, but they might as well apply to the book. In a sense,Â Barbarian DaysÂ functions as a 450-page thank you letter, masterfully crafted, to his parents, friends, wife, enemies, ex-girlfriends, townsfolk, daughterâeveryone who tolerated and even encouraged his lifelong obsession. Itâs a way to help themâand usâunderstand what drives him to keep paddling out half a century after first picking up a board.ââNPR.org
â[A] lyrical, intellectual memoir. The author touches on love, on responsibility, on politics, individuality and morality, as well as on the lesser-known aspects of surfing: the toll it takes on the body, the weird lingo, the whacky community. Finneganâs world is as dazzling and deep as any ocean. Itâs a pleasure to paddle into and makes for a hell of a ride.ââThe Millions
âItâs always fabulous when an incredible writer happens to also have a memoir-worthy life;Â Barbarian DaysÂ bodes well.ââGQ.com
âA dream of a book by a masterful writer long immersed in surfing culture. Finnegan recaptures the waves lost and found, the euphoria, the dangerâŚthe allure.ââBBC.com
âAs it progresses the whole book turns into a portalâŚItâs tempting to say that Barbarian Days will bring readers as close as theyâll get to the surf, short of actual surfing. But I had a stronger reaction: The book brought me closer than Iâd ever been, or expected to get, to the real, unfathomable ocean.ââBookforum
âPanoramic and fascinatingâŚThe core of the book is a surfing chronicle, and Finnegan possesses impeccable short-board bona fidesâŚA revealing and magisterial account of a beautiful addiction.ââPublishers Weekly (starred review)
âLike that powerful, glassy wave, great books on surfing come few and far between. This summer, New Yorker writer Finnegan recalls his teenage years in the California and Hawaii of the 1960sâwhen surfing was an escape for loners and outcasts. A delightful storyteller, Finnegan takes readers on a journey from Hawaii to Australia, Fiji, and South Africa, where finding those waves is as challenging as riding them.ââMark Rotella, Publishers Weeklyâs Best Summer Books of the Summer
âA fascinating look inside the mind of a man terminally in love with a magnificent obsession. A lyrical and intense memoir.ââKirkus
âAn up-close and personal homage to the surfing lifestyle through the authorâs journey as a lifelong surfer. Finneganâs writing is polished and boldâŚ[A] high-caliber memoir.ââLibrary Journal
At the post office in Nukuâalofa, I tried to sendÂ my father a telegram. It was 1978, his fiftieth birthday.Â But I couldnât tell if the message actually wentÂ through. Did anyone back home even know whatÂ country we were in?
I wandered down a road of half-built cinder blockÂ houses. There was a strange, philosophical graffito:Â ALL OUTER PROGRESS PRODUCE CRIMINAL. IÂ passed a graveyard. In the cemeteries in Tonga, lateÂ in the day, there always seemed toÂ be old women tending the gravesÂ of their parentsâcombing theÂ coral-sand mounds into the properÂ coffin-top shape, sweeping awayÂ leaves, hand washing faded wreathsÂ of plastic flowers, rearranging theÂ haunting patterns of tropical peppercorns,Â orange and green onÂ bleached white sand.
A shiver of secondhand sorrowÂ ran through me. And an ache ofÂ something else. It wasnât exactlyÂ homesickness. It felt like I had sailedÂ off the edge of the known world.Â That part was actually fine with me. The worldÂ was mapped in so many different ways. For worldlyÂ Americans, the whole globe was covered by the foreignÂ bureaus of the better newspapers. But the truthÂ was, we were wandering now through a world thatÂ would never be part of any correspondentâs beat. ItÂ was full of news, but all of it was oblique, mysterious,Â important only if you listened and watched and feltÂ its weight.
On the ferry here, I had ridden on the roof withÂ three boys who said they planned to see every kungfuÂ and cowboy and cop movie playing at the threeÂ cinemas in Nukuâalofa until their money ran out.Â One boy, thin and laughing and fourteen, told meÂ that he had quit school because he was âlazy.â He hadÂ a Japanese comic book that got passed around theÂ ferry roof. The book was a bizarreÂ mashup: cutesy childrenâs cartoons,Â hairy-armed war stories, nurse-and doctorÂ soap opera, graphic pornography.
A ferry crewman frownedÂ when he got to the porn, tore eachÂ page out, crumpled it, and threw itÂ in the sea. The boys laughed. Finally,Â with a great bark of disgust, theÂ sailor threw the whole book in theÂ water, and the boys laughed harder.Â I watched the tattered pages floatÂ away in a glassy lagoon. I closed myÂ eyes. I felt the weight of unmappedÂ worlds, unborn language. I knew IÂ was chasing something more than waves.
So the sadness of the obscure graveyard, of unforgottenÂ elders buried under sand made my chestÂ tight. It seemed to mock this whole vague childish
Still, something beckoned. Maybe it was Fiji.