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I'm not sure that anyone's ever adequately explained the fact that fishing, baseball, boxing, golf, and horse racing have produced nearly every page of worthwhile sports writing.  Baseball has more truly great writing than the others--from songs and poems, like Take Me Out to the Ballgame and Casey at the Bat; to daily journalism, like Red Smith's Miracle at Coogan's Bluff; to essays, like John Updike's Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu; to classic novels like Bang the Drum Slowly; to even great B-movies, like It Happens Every Spring--but fishing literature offers perhaps the most consistently high quality of writing (I don't think it has many songs, poems, or movies and only a handful of worthwhile novels).

The great Red Smith of course excelled in writing about all of these sports and his fishing essays are marvelous.  Robert Traver--perhaps best remembered now for Anatomy of a Murder, with its fishing-mad attorney--wrote a number of great essays, collected in Trout Magic and Trout Madness.  Nowadays, John Gierach seems incapable of putting pen to paper without producing an amusing fishing tale.  All in all, there's an embarrassment of riches to choose from.  It seems not too much to say that you can grab nearly any collection of fishing essays and find writing of a high standard.  In fact, it may be looking a gift horse in the mouth, but there's so much good writing about fishing that it takes on a certain sameness--all those magnificent trout rising to the mayfly hatches in Montana and Idaho start to blend together at some point.  So, though it seem perverse, it takes more than "just" great writing to get at least this casual fan to grab a new fishing book.  An author'd better have a well-barbed hook, to haul us in.

Ian Frazier's writing reputation precedes him--author of such well regarded books as On the Rez and Great Plains--but what's most appealing about this collection of his essays, mostly from The New Yorker and Outside, is that many of them, especially the early ones, concern the fishing in and around Manhattan.  Mr. Frazier takes this unlikely environs and lets us see that its just as fish-happy as any stretch of the Big Blackfoot River.  There are also some really lovely reminiscences of boyhood, including a charming essay about his Dad, who would become so disturbed by the notion of his son catching and hurting a fish that today it is those occasions when he gets skunked that remind Mr. Frazier most clearly of his father.  For my tastes the book loses a little steam when Mr. Frazier moves his family out West.  Suddenly we're back in the familiar--to me overfamiliar--waters of Montana.  But such quibbles are more than forgiven because of a few quite humorous essays that are mixed in. One on eating bugs is quite good and one, called Bad Advice, has an opening scene that's as funny as anything I've ever read anywhere.  I hope I'll be forgiven for quoting at length :

    Some years ago, on a camping trip in the pine woods of northern Michigan, my friend Don brought along a copy of an outdoor cookbook
    that appeared on the best-seller lists at the time. This book contained many ingenious and easy-sounding recipes; one that Don especially
    wanted to try was called "Breakfast in a Paper Bag." According to this recipe, you could take a small paper lunch sack, put strips of bacon
    in the bottom, break an egg into the sack on top of the bacon, fold down the top of the sack, push a stick through the fold, hold the sack
    over hot coals, and cook the bacon and egg in the sack in about ten minutes.

    I watched as Don followed the directions exactly. Both he and I remarked that we would naturally have thought the sack would burn;
    the recipe, however, declared, "grease will coat the bottom of the bag as it cooks." Somehow we both took this to mean that the grease,
    counterintuitively, actually made the bag less likely to burn. Marveling at the "who would have guessed" magic of it, we picked a good spot
    in the hot coals of our campfire, and Don held the sack above them. We watched. In a second and a half, the bag burst into leaping flames.
    Don was yelling for help, waving the bag around trying to extinguish it, scattering egg yolk and smoldering strips of bacon and flaming paper
    into the combustible pines while people at adjoining campfires stared in horror and wondered what they should do.

That's just good stuff and, by itself, makes the book worth reading.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOK SITE : The Fish's Eye: Essays About Angling and the Outdoors (FSB Associates)
    -Ian Frazier Papers (SOUTHWEST TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY)
    -EXCERPT : from The Fish's Eye : Anglers
    -ESSAY : Catching Monsters After Dark : Sometimes you just have to escape into the night, where unpredictable rendezvous and things that bite await you (Ian Frazier, October 2000, Outside)
    -ESSAY : Bad Advice : Let us now celebrate one of our most bountiful outdoor resources: bad advice. And if you listen carefully and act right away, it's absolutely free! (Ian Frazier, December 1999, Outside)
    -ESSAY : Guiding Guys : Our Business is People. Well, People and Trout. Actually, People and Trout and Some Ancillary High-Margin Items Like Neoprene Waders and Midges and the Like, Because, You Know, That's Where the Real Profits Are. : Welcome to Pools and Riffles outfitters, where the guides are as unique as the service. (Ian Frazier, Outside Magazine, March 1999)
    -ESSAY : A Lovely Sort of Lower Purpose : In praise of doing nothing. To wit: No racing, no exceeding, no catch-and-releasing. Just time-tested fooling around. (Ian Frazier, Outside magazine, May 1998)
    -ESSAY : It's Hard to Eat Just One : A brief and crunchy defense of entomophagy (Ian Frazier, April 1997, Outside)
    -ESSAY : The Great Indoors (Ian Frazier, Outside)
    -ESSAY : Pride :  I can do that (and please let someone be watching) (Ian Frazier, June 1997, Outside)
    -ESSAY :  I See a Little Silhouetto of a Man, (SCARAMOUCHE, SCARAMOUCHE, Will you do the FANDANGO?) : And other lofty ideas that pop into one's head and refuse to leave (Ian Frazier, Outside magazine, February 1998)
    -ESSAY : Does the Mushroom Love Its Plucker? Or does it loathe that enraptured human touch? An earthy tale of fungal romance, fully consummated. (Ian Frazier, September 1998, Outside)
    -ESSAY : Keeping America's Trees From Small-Curd Bubble Wrap : Down the postflood Mississippi, beating the bushes for the mother lode of trash (Ian Frazier, April 1995, Outside)
    -ESSAY : The Wish List : Everyone should have a no-holds-barred, shoot-the-moon inventory of things they'd like to accomplish in this life. These 100 can be yours, from rousing adventures (run the Rio Santa Maria) to essential skills (know how to set a broken bone) to defining moments (touch a haggis) (Ian Frazier, Jonathan Harr, Katherine Dunn, Alan Bean, Tad Friend, Roy Blount Jr., December 1998, Outside)
    -ESSAY : Dubya and Me: We've Got No Idea : That clueless stare in George W.'s eyes? A whole generation of graying 'wise' guys know all about it. (Ian Frazier May/June 2001, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY : All-consuming patriotism: American flag: $19.95. New yacht: $75,000. True patriotism? Priceless. (Ian Frazier, Mother Jones
March-April, 2002)
    -ESSAY : The mornings after: looking out from New Jersey, the view of the Manhattan skyline--and of the world beyond--has been changed forever. (Ian Frazier, Mother Jones, Jan-Feb, 2002)
    -ESSAY : Tomorrow's Bird : Soon it's going to be all crows, all the time. (Ian Frazier, Double Take)
    -ESSAY : Walking Tour : A journey through a metropolis that, once seen, can never be forgotten  (Ian Frazier, The Atlantic Monthly | February 2001 )
    -ESSAY : Desert Hideaway : A visit to the sunstruck landscape of Death Valley, and to the isolated cabin where Charles Manson lived in 1969 (Ian Frazier, February 2000, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Pick Your Part : Looking for a rearview mirror or a clutch fan in the far reaches of Los Angeles (Ian Frazier, March 1999, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Journalism Today : An intimate look at a great citizen (I'd like to work for) (Ian Frazier, October 1998, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : The Writing Life : The rigors of high-yield creativity (Ian Frazier, July 1998, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Typewriter Man (Ian Frazier, November 1997, Atlkantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : The Positive Negative : Saying no with a smile (Ian Frazier, June 1997, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Laws Concerning Food & Drink (Ian Frazier, February 1997, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Accompanying Franz : A book tour is hard enough on an author without competition from a genius out of the past(Ian Frazier, June 1996, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : No Phone, No Pool, No Pets (Ian Frazier, March 1996, Atlantic Monthly)
    -INTERVIEW : An Idea of Freedom : Ian Frazier talks about his new book, On the Rez, and what he's learned about the Oglala Sioux, American heroism, and the art of writing (January 5, 2000, Atlantic Monthly)
    -Ian Frazier - 1951 (Brendan O'Connor)
    -Powell's Books Interviews - Ian Frazier  (Dave Weich, Powells.com)
    -INTERVIEW : From the New Yorker to the Rez (Craig Seligman, 2/01/2000, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW : What is Ian Frazier? (From Interview, May 01 1996 by John Howell)
    -ARCHIVES : "frazier" (Outside Magazine)
    -ARCHIVES : "ian frazier" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "ian frazier" (Mag Portal)
    -ARCHIVES : Salon Directory : Ian Frazier
    -ARCHIVES : The New York Review of Books: Ian Frazier
    -REVIEW : of The Fish's Eye by Ian Frazier (FIELD MALONEY, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Fish's Eye by Ian Frazier (Miami Herald)
    -REVIEW : of The Fish's Eye by Ian Frazier (STEPHEN J. LYONS, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of The Fish's Eye by Ian Frazier (Mary Ann Smyth, Book Loons)
    -REVIEW : of The Fish's Eye by Ian Frazier (Business 2.0)
    -REVIEW : of On the Rez by Ian Frazier (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of On the Rez (Dorothy Cole, Weekly Alibi)
    -REVIEW : of On the Rez (LISSA RICHARDSON, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of On the Rez (HARDY GREEN, Business Week)
    -REVIEW : of On the Rez (Tom Montgomery-Fate, Sojourners)
    -REVIEW : of On the Rez (Outside)
    -REVIEW : OF ON THE REZ (NICOLE PANTER, SF BAY GUARDIAN)

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