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What would my dad think of Gator Country?
Finally having my first book published doesn’t just feel like a personal accomplishment. It feels like the fulfillment of a promise I made to him.
My dad was the person who taught me how to tell a story. It’s part of the culture of the swampy Deep South that he passed down to me. So it’s fitting that my first book, Gator Country, begins with a scene of me talking to my dad.
Most parents try to dissuade their kids from becoming writers. My dad never did that. He believed in me before anybody else did. He believed in me even before I believed in myself. Finally having my first book published doesn’t just feel like a personal accomplishment. It feels like the fulfillment of a promise I made to him. As he was dying, I assured him I wouldn’t give up on myself or my dreams.
Now, I’m faced with the question: What would my dad think of Gator Country?
I believe he would absolutely love it. He loved narrative nonfiction, especially when it sprinkled in history and culture. And I think he would have really liked the man at the center of the book, Jeff Babauta. Even though my dad didn’t like hunting or fishing—which will probably surprise a lot of people—he and Jeff are kindred spirits.
When I was a kid, my dad always told me to go outside. Bored? The woods are right there. Go wild.
When I was older, he would take me to marine biology lectures, and we would learn about the mysteries of our beloved ocean, the intelligence of octopuses, and the language of dolphins. One I remember in particular was how many species of fish shimmer in the same way that sunlight does when it reflects through water, so when predators look up at them from the deep, they vanish. When we walked out of the lecture, it was dark, and we could hear the waves washing ashore on the beach across the street. And we just stood there in the dark for a second like, damn, the world is amazing.
He was curious about the world, and so I was, too. He didn’t need to tell me to be. He just joined me in observing the world with wonder. Gator Country revolves around my deep admiration of nature as well as my fundamental belief that storytelling can save our planet by helping people feel more connected to it. This is something I know my dad would be proud of.
Storytelling has changed the way I look at the world, and it all started with my dad. Everything may not happen for a reason, but storytelling can give even the darkest trials of our lives meaning.
Thanks for reading,
If you’re like me and have seen all of the talk about the Roman Empire on the internet lately, here is a book recommendation for you. Mary Beard narrates the history of Rome "with passion and without technical jargon" and demonstrates how "a slightly shabby Iron Age village" rose to become the "undisputed hegemon of the Mediterranean" (Wall Street Journal). With its nuanced attention to class, democratic struggles, and the lives of entire groups of people omitted from the historical narrative for centuries, SPQR will to shape your view of Roman history.
That’s all for this week, folks. Thanks for reading! Remember to follow me on all your favorite social media platforms @rebeccarennerfl