Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer

Preparing the Ghost takes its name from an infantile stage of a squid's growth cycle, a tiny iteration of a potential behemoth. In Latin, this stage is called paralarva (para, "to make ready," and larva, "a ghost"). How fitting that such a small creature is already primed for its destiny as something larger than life, more specter than species. Matthew Gavin Frank's exploration of the giant squid's shadow on the human psyche takes on equal grandeur, veering from fact to lore with both verve and authority. 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, rendering it immortal with the click of the camera.

Initially, the book's structure might dismay certain readers. In sections that often span only a paragraph, Frank jumps from topic to topic, lingering briefly on one idea then lighting off to pursue another. The central figure in the story is Reverend Moses Harvey, squid enthusiast and owner of the shower in which the animal was photographed, but Frank embarks on tangents about contemporary scientists, memories of his dead grandfather, and the oddities and eccentrics in the Newfoundland area where Harvey and a crew of sailors dragged the beast ashore. The effect is akin to collage; we're fed clues until we can coalesce these bits and pieces into something fathomable. It's dizzying, occasionally frustrating, but mostly fascinating, like talking to a charming man at a party full of drunk academics. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer and bookseller at Flyleaf Books

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