Q&A: Mark Kurlansky


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
July 4, 2011

The author of New York Times bestsellers “Cod,” “Salt” and “The Big Oyster” has once again turned his full attention to the oceans with “World Without Fish,” a book aimed at kids age 9 and up that could serve to educate people of any age.

Illustrated by Frank Stockton and filled with useful facts and important lessons, Kurlansky’s latest effort reads as a cautionary tale. While it paints a grim picture of past and present practices for harvesting fish and what could happen if certain methods aren’t abandoned, it also prepares impressionable minds for a thoughtful approach to finding solutions.

For a seafood journalist, interviewing Kurlansky was like attending a private graduate-school lecture; engaging, thought-provoking and challenging. He carved out some time recently for an interview to talk about his latest book, the state of the oceans and why he feels a much-criticized scientific study was totally misunderstood. ??

How did you adjust your approach to writing a book for children?

?I’ve gone around and talked about these subjects a lot because of “Cod,” “Last Fish Tale” and other books. I’ve talked to adult audiences and kids in schools. It became apparent that people are really concerned about this issue, both adults and children, but they don’t understand it at all, which isn’t surprising because it’s a very complicated issue. And I thought if I explained it in clear language — because one of the reasons people don’t understand it is because the language that scientists use and that fish regulators use and even that fishermen use is absolutely incomprehensible to outsiders; it’s unbelievable how many acronyms they can get into a sentence — you could do it for kids and adults at the same time because they need the same clarity. So I think of it as kind of a family book. ??

Do you think that kids at age 9 can really grasp this subject as it’s written? ?

Yes. It was vetted by my daughter (Talia), who was 9 at the time. I took every chapter and showed it to her and asked her if there was anything she didn’t understand. I think that people talk down to kids too much. They can grasp a lot more than people realize and they like to be challenged. I didn’t simplify it at all. In fact, I occasionally fought with my editor; she pushed me to write a very ambitious book, but she sometimes worried that I was frustrating kids by not giving them a simple answer, that there were always caveats to everything. And there are, and they should know that.

Click here to read the rest of the NetWorking interview with Mark Kurlansky, which appears in the July issue of SeaFood Business.

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