Books

October 03, 1999

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."

Alpine Circus
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.

COLOR PHOTO: BALLANTINE BOOKS TWO COLOR PHOTOS: THE LYONS PRESS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)