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swordfish boat captain-turned-author

Linda Greenlaw

Linda Greenlaw says fishing crews spend a lot of time reading while aboard ship.

Though all she ever wanted to do was fish for a living, Linda Greenlaw seemed to have little trouble jumping ashore to become a writer. Her first book, “The Hungry Ocean,” about her years as the only female swordfish-boat captain on the East Coast, sold millions of copies. She reads from her newest memoir, “Lifesaving Lessons,” at Brookline Booksmith Tuesday at 7 p.m.

BOOKS: What kind of books do you like?

GREENLAW: I don’t like to work at reading too much. Writing is really difficult for me. When I read I want to sit down and sail through a book. The last thing I really enjoyed like that is “The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe. It’s about his relationship with his mother, who’s dying from pancreatic cancer. When I picked that book up I had just lost my older sister to pancreatic cancer, so I wasn’t sure I should be reading it, but it’s lovely. It’s really a love letter to his mother. You read so much about dysfunctional, hostile relationships. This was really refreshing.

BOOKS: Do you read more fiction or nonfiction?


GREENLAW: Some of each. My favorite author is Pat Conroy. I think his descriptions are so beautiful but don’t bog down the story. “The Prince of Tides,” which I’ve read several times, is my favorite. There are passages in that book I can read over and over. I even like “My Losing Season” and I don’t like basketball at all.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

GREENLAW: “Islands of Time” by Barbara Kent Lawrence, a novel that hasn’t been published yet. I get sent a lot of books to blurb. A friend of mine asked me to read her friend’s book and I was like, “Uh, OK.” But I really like it. The story, about a girl from away spending her summer in Maine, resonates with me.


BOOKS: Are you sent lots of books about fishing or the ocean?

GREENLAW: All the time. If they are well written I don’t mind, but I also enjoy books that have nothing to do with the ocean. I don’t need to read everything about fishing.

BOOKS: Any fishing books you’ve liked?

GREENLAW: “Hooked” by G. Bruce Knecht. That’s about the commercial fishery of the Patagonian toothfish. I also liked Mark Kurlansky’s “The Last Fish Tale.” It’s a great portrait of Gloucester, where I lived for years. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it because he writes a lot about overfishing.

BOOKS: How has fishing itself influenced your reading?

GREENLAW: I spent many years of my life fishing for swordfish. I would read like crazy steaming back and forth to the fishing grounds, five days out and five days back. Books get passed around a lot on a boat. If I gobbled my two then I’d want to borrow the crew’s, like those Alex Cross thrillers by James Patterson. They were popular on the boat. Generally the crew wasn’t that interested in what I had. You’d be surprised at how well read some fishermen are. Books are even passed back and forth between boats. Some fishermen will steam out of their way to catch up with a boat to get books.

BOOKS: Was the crew not interested in your books because you were a woman?


GREENLAW: Yeah. I went through this phase where I was all about Sue Grafton, like “A is for Alibi.” Those books aren’t chick-lit, but they wouldn’t even pick one up to try.

BOOKS: Do you miss the reading time swordfish fishing gave you?

GREENLAW: I do. I miss that five-day block of time when I would sit in a wheelhouse chair for eight hours a day looking at a radar and not have much else to do other than to go down to the engine room occasionally to make sure we weren’t sinking or that anything was on fire. All that time with no distractions, you can read a lot.

Amy Sutherland

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