In case you’re in denial about it, Discovery’s umpteenth Shark Week ends this Sunday, so you’ll have to wait another year for shows like “Zombie Sharks,” “Voodoo Sharks,” and “Island of the Mega Shark.” Sure, the shows sound like the titles of 1950s creature features, but there’s actually a little bit of science and conservation in there. Let’s be real, though — the main attraction is the footage of formidable, mysterious, teeth-baring, big ass sharks.
Discovery came under fire in years past for portraying sharks (especially everyone’s favorite, the great white) as man-eating monsters out for blood/revenge/dinner. As someone who has spent three days cage diving with great whites (in a moment of temporary insanity), I can attest to the fact that they’re not Jaws-like murderers just waiting to attack a hapless, bikini-clad babe. We actually saw them swim around with seals. Probably because they’d already eaten lunch.
I wouldn’t dare swim freely with great whites, and I definitely wouldn’t want to challenge one to a duel, but they definitely deserve our respect. They can grow to 5,000 pounds (what!), and detect a single drop of blood in 25 gallons of water. Not that that’s a fact that’ll make you want to get up close and personal with a great white, but it is pretty impressive.
So as Shark Week 2015 nears it end, here are six books to check out that might just keep you going long after the last show ends. Some are sensationalistic, some are fantastical, but all feature that gigantic fish that haunts our dreams: the shark.
Jaws by Peter Benchley
If you saw Jaws (and who hasn’t?), you were probably scarred for life and harbor an irrational terror of fins. Benchley’s book is like a creature feature for book nerds, and if you want a little suspense and some cheap thrills, you’ll love it. Just remember not all sharks are like the psycho fish in the story.
The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey
Journalist Susan Casey saw a documentary about the great whites off the Farallon Islands near San Francisco, an area that sailors in the 1850s nicknamed the "devil's teeth." She was so intrigued by what she saw that she decided to go get in the water with them. The Devil’s Teeth is about her experience diving in the murky waters, seeing the sharks up close, and bonding with the surfers and scientists that follow them. It’s a little like Wild with crashing waves and great white sharks. The perfect post-Shark Week read.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Young Pi Patel finds himself stranded at sea on a lifeboat, with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. And what would a good lost-at-sea tale be without a few shark encounters? Lame, that’s what. It’s a beautiful book, with a few sharks.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Speaking of human-versus-sea narratives, this one is like the mother of them all. Hemingway’s classic is about Santiago, an unlucky Cuban fisherman who winds up battling it out with a giant marlin. He also has to face some sharks, since they keep bothering him and messing with his prize catch. You root for Santiago, even though he is technically trespassing on the sharks’ turf.
Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan
Callahan was sailing the world and headed for Antigua when bad weather destroyed his boat. He escaped on a life raft (there was no tiger named Richard Parker, though), and found himself alone at sea for nearly three months — or 76 days, to be exact. Like Santiago and Pi, he encountered his fair share of sharks along the way. And lived to write about it.
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe
When you think of Poe you might not immediately think of a nature writer penning adventure stories about sharks, but this one actually does feature of few. It’s about a stowaway named Pym who has a pretty rough go of it facing cannibals, shipwrecks, starvation, and, of course, sharks. Poe wasn’t known for his novels, which is all the more reason to check it out if you’re a fan of his stories.
So, there’s your complete Shark Week reading list. Hopefully one day soon there’ll be a few more books about shark conservation to add to the mix.