Friday, April 4, 2008

Trying to start something.

I have been getting some feedback from readers. Granted, at this point I could likely count the number of acknowledged readers of my blog on my fingers. Still, it’s nice to hear from people.

In the interest of drumming up some discussion—and mostly because I am curious to know people’s thoughts on the subject(s), I wanted to post several general queries. They are surveys, really, though not particularly scientific surveys.

First, I would like to ask the question (again) regarding people’s opinions as to what is the most literary city or town in the State of Georgia. There are no set parameters here. The choice can be based upon anything that someone might wish to use to qualify his or her choice. For example, what famous authors come from there? What famous authors live there now? What books have been written about the place (fiction and non-fiction)? Are there publishers located there? Is the place known for current and regular literary activity (festivals, workshops, etc.)? I’d like to hear from you regarding your thoughts.

Second, where, who, and what are the most literary bookstore, coffee shop, author venue, and/or bar in the Atlanta area? Elsewhere in Georgia?

Third, as this blog is also about water, I would like to pose the following question. Before I do, however, I want to qualify it by stating that I understand that there is probably an official designation for the place that I am about to ask about. That is, there are surely governmental and scientific studies that would answer the question for me—an official answer, I mean. But I want to pose the question from a layman’s perspective. And I want the answers to be from a layman’s perspective, too (though I welcome comments from the experts on this).

So, with all of that as a prelude to question number three, here it is: Where is the nastiest, dirtiest, most unattractive spot—in your opinion--on any of Georgia’s waterways? I would really like to hear from you folks on the Chattahoochee and Peachtree Creek. But also you people on the Savannah, Oconee, and etc. Send pictures if you like. Just be very specific about the location. Feel free to really vent on the subject.

So, again, I am simply trying to start a little discussion; stir up some friendly controversy.

And speaking of stirring up some controversy, I regret that I have allowed April 1st (April Fool’s Day) to slip away without a post. I had planned to post something about how the world record for the biggest Largemouth Bass ever caught had finally been broken….by me.

This may sound a little lame to you non-fisherpersons, but I assure you that it would have been no small deal had there been those who took the claim seriously (had they taken the bait, so to speak). I might well have been putting myself in actual physical danger, not to mention the abuse that my blog might have been subjected to. So, anyway, take this as a warning for April Fool’s Day next year.

It was going to be a great post, too, if I may say so myself. It was going to be full of literary references from the great works of angler-oriented literature.

Call me Eddie. We’re gonna need a bigger boat. That kind of thing.

Incidentally, the world record for a largemouth bass (the official state fish of Georgia) is twenty-two pounds and four ounces. The fish was caught in 1932, out of a Georgia farm pond by a man named George Washington Perry. That record still stands.

What follows are a couple of book reviews that I wrote for Southern Distinction Magazine back in 2005.

Sowbelly-The Obsessive Quest for the World-Record Largemouth Bass by Monte
Burke; published March, 2005 by Dutton Press; $23.95; 237


Still Life With Brook Trout by John Gierach;
published April, 2005 by Simon & Schuster; $23.00; 213

Reviewed by Eddie Suttles

Attention all non-fisherpersons. Do not assume that a review of two new books about fishing does not concern you. As all good fishermen (and women) will tell you, fishing is about so much more than, well, just fishing. From the Bible
(“You will become fishers of men”, Jonah and the whale, etc.) to Moby Dick to
Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’ to ‘A River Runs Through It’, angling has
served—and serves—many purposes.

Through the ages, fishing has provided man a means to provide food for his table, a contemplative hobby and a competitive sport, a metaphor for saving men’s souls or explaining the universe, a basis for story telling, a reason for camaraderie, and a means to get out of church, work and marriages.

As the two titles reviewed here will attest as regards the human condition, fishing covers all the bases, from the quiet, reflective and in-tune with nature mind of the philosopher outdoorsman, to the obsessive, bank-busting lunacy of the fanatic.
Sowbelly, by Forbes Magazine staff writer Monte Burke is a strictly business look at the lengths to which some die-hard anglers—and even states—will go to beat the record for the biggest largemouth bass. Sowbelly refers to the mythical pig-like girth of the current world-record.

There is a plaque located at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame that lists some interesting Georgia sports facts and firsts. On this plaque one will find the name of one George Washington Perry. In the spring of 1932, Perry, then a poor twenty-year-old farmer from McRae, Georgia, skipped plowing his field one morning due to inclement weather. Instead, he and a friend went fishing.

That morning, Perry landed the biggest largemouth bass ever recorded, weighing in at twenty-two pounds and four ounces. Perry took his monster fish to a local general store, had it weighed, then did what any poor farmer in those days would have done with a fish that size. He took it home to feed his family. No photographs. No posting on the internet.

Seventy-two years later, his record still stands. The largemouth bass is, incidentally, the state fish of Georgia. Some of the accounts in Sowbelly, though engaging and well written, are almost painful to read. As Burke travels the country (with fishing detours to Japan and Cuba), he encounters a fishing subculture of fame and fortune seekers who are obsessed with breaking Perry’s record. Lying, cheating, bankruptcy, divorce, broken friendships and ruined reputations are common. Even violence is not unheard of in these circles.

Burke, being a business writer, would be remiss if he didn’t point out that the bass fishing industry in the United States alone is a $12 billion a year business. That’s Billion. He also discusses a nationwide group of anglers who formed a group that, before it folded, collectively referred to itself as the Big Bass Record Club.

For a number of years, the Club posted an $8 million reward for anyone who could prove to have broken Perry’s record. Something like that might explain some of
the craziness that Burke describes in his book.

Sowbelly is enthralling, in much the same way that watching one of the seedier daytime TV talk shows might be. The book was recently selected by Barnes & Noble Booksellers for their prestigious Discover New Authors program, which attests to its overall merit.

Burke’s book is an interesting read, if only for what it says about human nature. On the other hand, this reviewer cannot imagine wanting to actually go fishing with most of the characters that Burke describes. This is full-contact bass fishing.

At the other end of the fishing spectrum is the latest book by fishing philosopher John Gierach. Gierach is the author of fourteen previous books, mostly on fly-fishing. His titles include the much acclaimed ‘Standing in a River Waving a Stick’ and ‘Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing’, both of which were national bestsellers.

Gierach’s writing is literary in every sense of the word, and it is easy to understand why he has such a huge following. His prose, in both its style and subject matter, is
reminiscent of the late Georgia author James Kilgo. Gierach is philosophical without going out of his way to draw the reader’s attention to it. He also writes about fishing without bothering to explain anything that he is talking about—you either know what a yellow marabou underwing is, or you can look it up. That said, though, Gierach does not write condescendingly to the uninitiated, but instead invites the reader to come along with him as he engages in an activity that he obviously considers pure joy.

Gierach combines his literary prose with observations on matters ranging from human behavior to public conservation policy. He rounds out his writing with a genuine wit that is guaranteed to get a laugh. Annie Dillard and Janisse Ray, meet
Izaak Walton and Bill Dance.

The best part about being a first-time reader of Geirach—as this reviewer is—is the sense of discovery one has at finding an especially good writer. And the knowledge that he has another fourteen books to look forward to reading. It’s like finding a really good new fishing hole—one that you are willing to share with others. Here is a guy with whom I would like to go fishing.

Burke and Gierach’s new books provide an enjoyable and even fascinating glimpse into the mysterious workings of the angler’s mind—obsessive, philosophical, and much in between.

Some other books you might want to consider: Anything by Jimmy Jacobs (editor of Georgia Outdoorsman)

The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton

Real Men Read. And fish.

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