Friday Reads: The Soul of an Octopus

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“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 


This week, the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club discussed The Soul of an Octopus: a surprising exploration into the world of consciousness by naturalist Sy Montgomery.  We always have a rollicking good time talking about great books, but today’s discussion was one of the most fun.   For some it was overcoming the ick- factor, for others it was learning about something familiar, yet completely unknown, and for all, it was sharing our stories about how this amazing book changed us.  And the writing was beautiful to boot!  Sadly, we didn’t get as far as discussing the quality of the writing.  We were too caught up in eight arms of octopus lore.

The Soul of an Octopus is a love letter to the author’s new found friends: octopuses named Athena, Octavia and Kali; and the diverse group of people she meets who love them too.   Montgomery visits the New England Aquarium in Boston on Wednesdays to gather with her friends, feed capelin to the octopuses, stroke their velvety heads and get hickeys on her arms from their strong and inquisitive suction cups.  They literally taste her skin and give her kisses with their cups.  Through Montgomery’s narrative, we learn about the octopus’ distinct personalities, their great intelligence, and yes, their souls.  We also see there are a number of similarities between them and us.  Amazing.  Sprinkled throughout are interesting scientific facts that are integrated well into the story.

I don’t think any of us had a particular interest in octopuses before reading this book, even the group member who recommended it.  But with the compelling subject so deftly and warmly portrayed by the author, you don’t need three hearts like an octopus to be changed for the better.

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