On Thursday, June 2nd a group of Books on Tap readers met at Champion Brewery (following a power outage) to discuss Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness. Published in 2015 and a National Book Award Finalist, much of this non-fiction work takes place at the Great Ocean Tank of the New England Aquarium in Boston.
Those who listened to the author read the audio version of the book really liked it. They enjoyed putting a voice to their image of the author and pointed out that she read with such expression that they could feel how passionately she felt about each amazing creature she encountered, especially the octopuses. Everyone agreed they learned new things about octopuses and other sea creatures over the course of the book. Everyone was astounded by the extraordinarily short lifespans they have. We found the book approachable and very readable.
Some readers felt the book was shallow. They thought that the author was hyper focused on the various places where she traveled to research, and thought that she concentrated on relaying only her personal experiences of said trips. They wished that she would have delved deeper into specific details about their research and they wished she had included more how and why information about the various scientists who supported her on the research trips. In this same vein, some attendees felt that they wanted to know more about the meaningful relationships between the main characters she volunteered with and their relationships between each other. There was also the opinion that there could have been more scientific facts presented about the various octopuses mentioned in the book. Some readers were distracted by the meandering side stories and wished the author had incorporated more details and connectivity to the people she volunteered with at the New England Aquarium.
Readers felt the author did not address the idea of the octopus soul. They found the title misleading. This was a disappointment and they felt let down at the end of the book. One topic to ponder is the thought that it is wonderful that the book highlighted the incredible intelligence of the octopus but some felt sad that the author did not question the morality of keeping them in captivity in small spaces, at times, for the education and for the entertainment of humans. Several readers appreciated the fact that the octopuses who are captured to mate in aquariums on the west coast can be successfully and safely be re-released into the wild near where they were captured in the first place.
It was a passionate and lively discussion and we all left with the feeling that all creatures of the land and the sea are important and deserve support and protection.
“There’s nothing more peculiar than an octopus.”
Other titles, movies, and lectures mentioned:
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Mozart’s Starling By Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
The Octopus Scientist: Exploring the mind of a mollusk– children’s non-fiction book by Montgomery We had this book on hand for readers to browse through the photographs of various octopuses.
The Hawk’s Way (2022) by Sy Montgomery
My Octopus Teacher currently available to watch on Netflix
July 7th Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
August 4th Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
September 1st The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins