Science journalist Sabrina Imbler dives deep into the waters of human and marine life in their luminous essay collection, How Far the Light Reaches.
In the book’s 10 essays, Imbler cannily observes the lives of sea creatures, drawing out lessons about resilience, survival and wildness and tying those insights to their own experiences as a biracial, queer writer. For example, goldfish that survive being thrown from a tiny fishbowl into a larger pond revert to a feral state. When Imbler encountered these wild fish, they saw “something that no one expected to live not just alive but impossibly flourishing, and no longer alone.” Imbler compares a female octopus who starves herself in order to nourish and protect her eggs to their own efforts at dieting to please their mother. Imbler eventually started to feel good in their body, learning to “revel in queer bodies and the endless and inventive ways we crease into ourselves.” In the deep rivers of China, sturgeon forage for food to survive in the murky waters, just as Imbler’s grandmother foraged for food to survive after fleeing Japanese-occupied Shanghai during wartime. In perhaps the most brilliant chapter of the book, Imbler alternates the necropsy of a whale with the necropsy of a relationship. Like the carcass of a whale, the threads of a dead relationship—“once so staggeringly alive”—float through space and time with no sense of what is to come.
How Far the Light Reaches meditates radiantly on the ragged ways we adapt to the world around us, probing the lives of marine animals for strategies for our own survival. Imbler’s first-rate science writing glistens with the same sheen as the best of Oliver Sacks’ essays.