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Trevor Corson Explains 'The Zen of Fish'

Author Trevor Corson had no intention of becoming a "Seafood Guy," but his interest was sparked during his 20s, when he took a job as a commercial lobsterman.
Author Trevor Corson had no intention of becoming a "Seafood Guy," but his interest was sparked during his 20s, when he took a job as a commercial lobsterman.

Trevor Corson's The Zen of Fish, a tastier-than-fiction tale about "the fast food of old Tokyo," follows California sushi-school students through their 12-week transformation from aspiring apprentices into full-fledged chefs — training that takes five years to complete in Japan.

The story focuses on the emotional and physical trials of 20-year-old Kate Murray as she learns to wield some of the world's sharpest knives — yes, they're the descendants of samurai swords — and battles to make a home for herself in the male-centric world behind the sushi bar.

Interspersed with Murray's story are surprising morsels on the history, preparation and science of sushi: Who knew that the freshest fish isn't usually the tastiest? Or that the bluefin tuna belly we prize was once considered to be a garbage fish, unfit for human consumption?

Corson, once a graduate student with an interest in East Asian religions, had no intention of becoming what he now calls "Seafood Guy." But in his mid-20s, he took a two-year breather as a commercial lobsterman, fulfilling a fascination with lobster boats that went back to childhood summers in Maine.

The experience spawned his first book, The Secret Life of Lobsters, which he says is "full of exciting sex and violence under the sea." The story originated as an essay in the Atlantic Monthly that was later collected in The Best American Science Writing 2003.

Corson was an award-winning editor at the Harvard quarterly Transition, and he's written about international politics and Chinese-American military affairs for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal.

This reading of The Zen of Fish took place in June 2007 at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Kulman
Linda Kulman, the editor of NPR.org’s weekly feature Book Tour, is an avid reader, veteran journalist and writer living in Washington, D.C. She worked as a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report for a decade, where she reported for every section of the magazine. Most recently, she covered religion and consumer culture. Kulman’s book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and on NPR.org. She has collaborated on four non-fiction books, working with a variety of notable figures. Early on in her career, she worked for several years as a fact checker at The New Yorker. Kulman also earned a degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.