A Jerk on One End: Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman
By Robert Hughes
Ballantine Books, $18.95
The true value of this all-too-brief book, part of the publisher's Library of Contemporary Thought series, is that the reader need not be a fisherman—or, for that matter, even a fish eater—to enjoy it. This reviewer, for example, equates a morning spent knee-deep in a trout stream as a torture comparable to gum surgery or being forced at gunpoint to read the collected works of Danielle Steel. But Hughes is such a provocative and entertaining writer that if his subject were, say, crabgrass containment, he'd still be worth reading. The celebrated author and TIME magazine art critic makes catching creatures of the water seem like one of the most fascinating activities known to man.
The first part of this book speculates, often hilariously, on the mysterious pleasures of the amateur angler—"Fishing largely consists of not catching fish," Hughes notes—while the second is dedicated to a reasoned assault on the excesses of the high-tech commercial fishing industry, which is systematically depleting the population of the world's oceans. But the difficulty in protecting fish, "or at least in regulating and reducing the wholesale killing, is their utter unlikeness to us," Hughes concedes. "They are cold, dumb and slimy, though indubitably good to eat."
The Sporting Life
By Bill Barich
The Lyons Press, $22.95
Barich is another excellent writer on fishing and the outdoors, but he is equally at home in the less savory environments of the racetrack and the prizefighting ring, as this collection of his journalism demonstrates. In none of these diverse activities does he pretend to be an expert; he is simply enjoying himself. He has a fine time talking boxing with a second-rate San Francisco junior middleweight or trailing a Russian baseball team, the Moscow Red Devils, on an edifying if athletically humiliating tour of the West Coast. The Red Devils, Barich writes, "were as studiously correct as pupils at a dancing school, concentrating so hard on their steps that they scarcely heard the melody."
By Michael Finkel
The Lyons Press, $22.95
If Hughes and Barich are uncommonly astute observers, Finkel represents a kind of latter-day Richard Halliburton, a youthful adventurer willing to go anywhere and do anything for kicks. The difference in this collection is that all of Finkel's adventures are on skis. He hits the most unlikely slopes around the world, even scaling Mount Kilimanjaro—Kili, as he calls it—to make a run from the summit: "Skiing at 19,000 feet, I promptly discovered, is exhausting." You betcha.