Still Life with Brook Trout
Hardbound : 195 pp.
Simon & Schuster $23
I don't remember the exact figures, but I once attempted a database search of all fly fishing titles since, well, ink started being pressed onto paper. The number was in the thousands and easily eclipsed all other sports books combined. I suspect the number is high, not just because fly fishing books have been coming off presses for hundreds of years. The sport has always been associated with a bookish group of people--lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers and such, even a nun or two. And to the list we can happily add works by a Colorado writer driven by a philosophic and comedic outlook on a life filled with travel, bamboo and all manner of fishing, from carp to bluegills to steelhead.
The best serious writing about anything often has good comedy. Just ask Shakespeare. Maybe a little comedy, especially the self-deprecating kind, gives a writer the right measure of humility and balance to help him toward a deeper appreciation of whatever he finds interesting enough to write about. Or perhaps the humor just makes the writing more entertaining so that we finish the book and buy more. Whatever the reasons, they are admirably present in Gierach's latest, and I think greatest, book, Still Life with Brook Trout .
I must confess, I was a bit confused by the cover, a silhouetted man with a open-faced spinning reel. This mystery set the tone of the book for me as I read in anticipation of an explanation. Will Gierach succeed again at what he is so good at--force me to question my assumptions about fly fishing, some deeply held? Is he trying to tell me to fish a little deeper, something which I struggle at? Or, God forbid, is he prodding me to step outside myself in order to explore the basic assumption that perhaps flyfishers are not the smartest collection of rod wavers to walk the streams? Or did the graphic artist miss a trick?
"Still life" is appropriate. Like a painting, Gierach's writing focuses on the moment. His stories always seem a few degrees shy of short stories, and like a good short story, he wraps precise, comedic, and honest images into a larger meaningful tale of what it's like to roam the mountains and streams of the natural world that Gierach considers his backyard. His invitation--come walk in my wading boots and see life from my side of the fly rod. In this respect, he reminds me of another picture maker, Ansel Adams. Photographic art is achieved, says Adams, when the viewer feels what the photographer felt when he tripped the shutter. Gierach, too, has a similar ability to use his language to bring the user along the same currents and mountain streams that populate his fishing and imagination.
Gierach's writing style matches his message. Like a mountain stream, his sentences turn and twist on a course that is not forced. One thought leads to another, then another, naturally, as if the writer wanted to engage the reader into a perceptive and pleasant conversation. And we are all too willing to sit and listen for a long while, hoping the end will not come too soon, and if it does, wondering when the next adventure will fly off the press.
--Toney J. Sisk
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