135. John Gierach

John Gierach, writer. If you aren’t a fisherman, you have probably never heard of him. If you want to write, you should probably check him out.

I don’t fish. I once wanted to, but my old car wouldn’t reach the mountains, the local rivers only held carp, and I was too busy trying to be a writer anyway. I could read about fishing though, and that’s how I found John Gierach. It was a happy discovery; I’ve learned more about writing from him than I have from Hemingway.

Sports Illustrated said, “If Mark Twain were alive and a modern-day fly fisherman, he still would be hard put to top John Gierach in the one-liner department.” If that seems excessive, note that they are only talking about quips.

Like Twain, Gierach’s charm lies in understated humor layered into everyday experience. Gierach is an absolutely American writer, sending a message about the America with which today’s urban dwellers have largely lost touch. He grew up in farm country and understands a working man’s simple pleasures. My father, who never played a day in his life, would have understood Gierach instinctively if he had ever done anything as frivolous as read a book on fishing.

Gierach’s work has a cumulative effect. Beyond the one liners there is a picture of a life well lived, described with clarity and simplicity, and a steady hum of understated humor. Here is an example:

It also occurred to me, for some reason, that I now had just about everything I’d wanted when I was fourteen years old and was just starting to hang out with men I admired and wanted to be like. . . . I remember that, as a boy, the men seemed glad and competent in the field, but there was also sometimes a kind of subdued melancholy about them, too. I didn’t understand that as a kid, but I do now. . . . Anyway, somewhere in the past, based on the little I knew for sure, I had fastened on the perfect life as one based on art and sport, plus a few other things like love, friendship, pretty country and good food. Given a loose enough definition of art, that’s what I had.
               from The New Pond in Even Brook Trout Get the Blues, by John Gierach.

Not at all profound. Or is it?

If you are a would-be writer, try him; but if you are seduced by the ease of his writing remember that nothing is harder to pull off than the appearance of ease. And don’t write everything in second person – only Gierach can get away with that.

*****

I originally wrote this post months ago but couldn’t find quite the right time to run it. Two things have changed. First, I just got John’s 2014 book All Fishermen Are Liars and his first story, A Day at the Office, is the perfect thing for me to recommend if you only intend to study his chops. But don’t blame me if you get hooked.

Second, my new novel Cyan is due out shortly. It is, among other things, about the rediscovery of nature by people fleeing an overcrowded Earth. In addition to exploration, adventure, and danger, there is one brief scene about a colonist who grew up reading old fishing books on an Earth where all the fish were dead, and who achieves his lifelong ambition by catching the first fish on the new planet. I think John would like that.

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