Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer [NOOK Book]

Overview

Memory, mythology, and obsession collide in this strikingly original and enigmatic account of the first man to photograph a giant squid.


Moses Harvey was the eccentric Newfoundland reverend and amateur naturalist who first photographed the near-mythic giant squid in 1874, draping it over a shower curtain rod to display its magnitude. In Preparing the Ghost, what begins as Moses’s story becomes much more, as fellow squid-enthusiast Matthew Gavin Frank boldly winds his narrative ...
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Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer

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Overview

Memory, mythology, and obsession collide in this strikingly original and enigmatic account of the first man to photograph a giant squid.


Moses Harvey was the eccentric Newfoundland reverend and amateur naturalist who first photographed the near-mythic giant squid in 1874, draping it over a shower curtain rod to display its magnitude. In Preparing the Ghost, what begins as Moses’s story becomes much more, as fellow squid-enthusiast Matthew Gavin Frank boldly winds his narrative tentacles around history, creative nonfiction, science, memoir, and meditations about the interrelated nature of them all. In a full-hearted, lyrical style reminiscent of Geoff Dyer, Frank weaves in playful forays about his research trip to Moses’s Newfoundland home, Frank’s own childhood and family history, and a catalog of bizarre facts and lists that recall Melville’s story of obsession with another deep-sea dwelling leviathan. Though Frank is armed with impressive research, what he can’t know about Harvey he fictionalizes, quite explicitly, as a way of both illuminating the scene and exploring his central theme: the big, beautiful human impulse to obsess.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

One early reader described this book as "a triumph of obsession, a masterful weaving of myth and science, of exploration and mystery, of love and nature." All that it is. More prosaically, Preparing the Ghost is the story of one 19th century Newfoundlander (Rev. Moses Harvey) and his Melville-worthy fascination with a single sea creature (the Giant Squid). The story would be fascinating even if it was that simple, but in the riffs, climbs, and forays of author Matthew Gavin Frank, the narrative carries a power all its own. Another pre-publication enthusiast called this magnificent obsession "the most original book I have read in years." Editor's recommendation.

The New York Times Book Review - Jon Mooallem
Preparing the Ghost, Frank's slyly charming book-length essay, explores Harvey's compulsion to understand the mystery of the giant squid and also Frank's compulsion to understand compulsions like Harvey's. Frank is interested in both the way we mythologize what we can't fully understand and the amount of uncertainty that surrounds every story…Frank winds up musing about a lot—it's a wide-ranging book—but the giant squid is always pulsating somewhere in the darkness underneath it all…It's hard to imagine a better book about not entirely understanding giant squids.
Publishers Weekly
04/21/2014
In this four-part essay, Frank (Pot Farm) chronicles his research into a 19th-century Newfoundland eccentric who photographed a giant squid, though as a creative work it is less interested in the facts of its subject than in the questions it raises. Readers interested in cryptozoology may be disappointed to find information about the creature spread diffusely throughout the larger narrative, but this is fitting for a subject defined by its elusiveness, a creature of quasi-mythic status and “exaggerated melodrama.” Frank’s inquiry is concerned primarily with the nature of myth and our tendency to “mythologize the actual,” in this case a beast made marvelous by the “fusion of its size and its rarity.” He sifts through historical interest in the squid to ask questions about the nature of empathy, our means for “sharing our obsessions,” and the role of myth as “expression of our greatest semi-imagined fears.” Woven into these big questions are little stories, personal anecdotes, family history, and profiles of contemporary and historic players in the narrative of the giant squid. In this blending of the large and small, Frank sees human lives that are “delicious, disturbing, and downright huge,” and expresses his personal experience with a seldom encountered subject. (July)
Jon Mooallem - The New York Times Book Review
“[A] slyly charming book-length essay… The connections between all these themes—giant squids, Poppa Dave, ice cream—are fragile, but for the most part, Frank knows just how much weight they can bear. And there is some stunning writing and perversely wonderful research along the way… Alluring. It’s hard to imagine a better book about not entirely understanding giant squids.”
William Giraldi - Wall Street Journal
“Delights in a banquet of unusual facts and fantasts. . . . Mr. Frank marshals irresistible information—the evolution of calamari as a popular dish, the uses of ambergris . . . along with pressing philosophical queries and excerpts from scholars. These elements coalesce to give this book a charming dynamism. More important, Mr. Frank's high-wattage prose never dims.”
Annalissa Quinn
“In a book as coiled, strange and tentacular as its subject, Matthew Gavin Frank considers the squid. . . . An act of love and erudition.”
Elissa Schappell - Vanity Fair
“One of the handsomest, most elusive creatures on earth and its first photographer get their close-up in Matthew Gavin Frank’s marvelous Preparing the Ghost.”
Andrea DenHoed - The New Yorker Page-Turner
“This strange, innovative book-length essay is, like the squid that serves as its emblematic center, slippery and many-armed… The book is a history of people who have become enthralled by the giant squid; it is also a larger exploration of the human tendency to fall into obsession and ‘mythologize the actual, just because it’s unusual.'”
Linnie Greene - Shelf Awareness
“Frank's blustery confidence and unabashed enthusiasm is infectious; he's as intrepid and exploratory as the people who first draped a squid over a shower rod in 1874… It's dizzying… but mostly fascinating, like talking to a charming man at a party full of drunk academics.”
Jason Diamond - Flavorwire
“Totally original and haunting in the way you’d expect a book about a real life Presbyterian clergyman and amateur naturalist from the late-19th century—and his relationship with a giant squid—to be.”
Jon Mooallem - New York Times Book Review
“Slyly charming. . . . stunning writing and perversely wonderful research. . . . Alluring. It’s hard to imagine a better book about not entirely understanding giant squids.”
Lidia Yuknavitch
“The most original book I have read in years.”
Matt Bell
“A triumph of obsession, a masterful weaving of myth and science, of exploration and mystery, of love and nature. Here Matthew Gavin Frank delivers my favorite book-length essay since John D'Agata's About a Mountain, and with it he stakes a claim to his own share of the new territory being forged by such innovators of the lyric essay as Eula Biss and Ander Monson.”
Megan Mayhew Bergman
“A mysterious but seductive mix of history, creative non-fiction, memoir, and poetry. . . . keeps the reader riveted with the lure of the unknown and dark, sultry prose.”
Mary Cappello
“A mash-up of a meditation on the nature of myth, the magnetic distance between preservation and perseverance, and the “sympathetic cravings” that undergird pain. In Frank’s heart-thumping taxonomy, monstrous behemoths square nicely with butterflies and ice cream. Don’t ask me how: read this book!”
Lee Martin
“What a marvelous essay. . . . Take it all in. Revel in its majesty.”
Dinty W. Moore
“A multi-tentacled and entirely captivating saga of profound mystery and relentless pursuit.”
Brenda Miller
“Part history, part lyric poem, part detective novel—Matthew Gavin Frank’s Preparing the Ghost is just as intriguing and hard to classify as its subject. I never thought I’d care so much about the elusive giant squid, but thanks to this book, I can’t help but see its shadow everywhere.”
Patrick Madden
“A great essay takes us into the author’s polymathic mind and out to the wondrous world, teaching us something we didn’t know we wanted to know.”
Sy Montgomery
“Reads like a cross between Walt Whitman and a fever dream. Who would think squid and ice cream go together? I remained riveted to the very last word.”
Bob Dotson
“The shortest distance between two people is a great story. This one is incredible. You will embrace Preparing the Ghost like a friend you won't want to leave.”
Lia Purpura
“Matthew Gavin Frank reinvents the art of research in extraordinarily imaginative ways. His meditation on the briefly known and the forever unknowable courts lore (both family and creaturely), invites the fantastical, heeds fact, and turns the human drive to notate and list into a gesture of lyrical beauty.”
Simon Winchester
“Fans of Federico Fellini and, most especially, of Georges Perec, will adore Mr. Frank's infuriatingly baroque, charmingly eccentric and utterly unforgettable book. And with hand on heart I can truly say that I also loved every word of it.”
Catherine Chung
“Inventive, original, and endlessly interesting, Preparing the Ghost is a gorgeous exploration of myth, history, language, and imagination. . . . A journey through passion, obsession, fear, and adventure, and the hunger to behold what lurks within the depths of the sea.”
Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-21
An investigation of our first encounters with the giant squid, a creature “more bizarre than anything appearing inStar Wars.”Poet and creative writing teacher Frank (The Morrow Plants: Poems, 2013, etc.) moves like a wraith around the myth, superstition and spirit of the giant squid—and not as a single-subject exploration but through the conjured memory of Moses Harvey, a preacher in Newfoundland during the mid-1800s. Harvey had heard stories of the beast—a kraken, a devil-fish that lived up to its name—and one morning in 1874, he was able to lay eyes on one. It was washed ashore, dead, but damn if he wasn’t going to commune with the creature up close and personal. He paid some men to carry the squid to his tub—“Nothing says domestication like a giant squid strung over a clawfoot bathtub”—before he said farewell and shipped it off to Yale for safekeeping. Surrounding the event is a great embroidery of story: “I am mythmaking, I suppose,” writes Frank, and he does it with transporting authority. Readers walk through the cold, pins-and-needles rain that falls forever in Newfoundland and perambulate the town as Frank walked it in modern times. The author concocts the background out of whole cloth, an imagined scenario. Though there are facts enough to keep it real, there are also moments in which there is a strong sense of the unconscious at work. “Somewhere, in the recesses of these recessive versions of our dominant truths,” writes Frank, “behind a daisy chain of lanterns and Darwin’s theories drunk and conga-lining, Rudolph Valentino was blond.” This track eventually wends its way back to myth and Newfoundland.Fantastical, atmospherically moody and Poe-like in its laudanum-fueled dreaminess.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871402899
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 654,233
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Matthew Gavin Frank has previously
written about everything from wine-making in a tent
in Italy to the social hierarchies of a pot farm in California.
He teaches creative writing and lives in Marquette, Michigan.
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