Brad’s Miss Jane

Brad Watson’s new novel makes the NYTBR— above the fold, with a photo one that one friend teased “has that Sam Shepard vibe”. Congratulations!

I like all of Brad’s work, but this one is rich- ma ybe his best? I will give it proper review when I finish

UPDATE: Here is an even better review in the Denver Post, c/o Reid.

Maybe some of his skill or at least luck will rub off on the standing desk he brought to the blog party for me.. The computer swivels two ways for Libby and me (notice  I am so eager to test it that I am still wearing my hat- I am generally not so “cow” as to wear my hat when writing)…

Fine Shotguns: A Review

Subtitled The History, Science, and Art of the Finest Shotguns from Around the World
John Taylor’s big- format paperback from Skyhorse is both more
ambitious and far more difficult a task than it might appear to be, and
for the most part he has succeeded splendidly. No, that’s not fair; he
HAS succeeded; that is to say, I have minor disagreements with him, of
opinion not fact;  I might emphasize a few things he doesn’t; and I
would recommend this book to anyone who is beginning to untangle the
mysteries of shotguns, without reservations. At the moment, it is the
best “Freshman course” on fine doubles around, especially if you are an
American, and I suspect it will be the standard for some time to come.

 What rivals does it have? Johnny Barsness’s Shotguns for Hunting is a great book, and I wouldn’t be without it. It is the best and most general book on what shotguns are, how they work, and how to use each kind for the proper game that exists, but it is about ALL shotguns, as its title suggests, while Fine Shotguns is about what Libby calls the pretty ones: double guns, both side by side and over and under. Only a few repeaters are so much as mentioned – the Ithaca 37, its predecessor the Remington 17, and the legendary Winchester Model 12, a gun that the late Geoffrey Boothroyd, “James Bond’s Armourer”, once wrote me was more esthetic in his eyes than the far more expensive Model 21 double, the favorite shotgun of Hemingway and O’Connor, thereby committing a sacrilege in the eyes of many Americans. But my father, an artist AND a hunter, sold his Model 21 and kept his 16 gauge Model 12 and his Browning Sweet 16. .John Barsness says: “…my favorite Chukar gun these days is the 6 1/4 pound 16- gauge Model 12 pump I bought from Steve Bodio a few seasons ago….This little 16 is also my favorite early season sharptail and Prairie chicken gun”, and adds (not in the book) that it handles “like a Purdey”.” It  doesn’t, actually, but this is the kind of superlative the old Winchesters tend to attract.

UPDATE: here are my father’s favorites in an old ad display from Shooting Sportsman online, courtesy of Daniel Riviera:

I must tell you a few more things this book is NOT, to tell you what its virtues are, as almost all my other modern gun books, good ones, often by friends, fall into certain categories. It is not a specialized monograph, not a book on just Purdeys or just Bosses or  just Parkers or LC Smiths or “British Boxlocks” (Diggory Hadoke) or “Spanish Bests” (Terry Wieland). Nor is at detailed look at a kind of technical aspect of guncraft, like Vic Venters’ book of that name, or any of Steven Dodd Hughes’ books. It is not even a buyer’s manual. telling you how to pick a good British gun for yourself for a reasonable price — reasonable price by today’s standards — like Terry’s Vintage British Shotguns or Diggory’s Vintage Guns for the Modern Shot. It is certainly not a textbook for the obsessed, showing tiny details of vintage gun construction, like Braden and Adams’ Lock, Stock, and Barrel. I have every one of these books and again would not be without them. And not ONE , except possibly Barsness’s, would be of the slightest use to a beginner. They all automatically assume a level of knowledge that most people simply don’t have, so they start collecting shotguns and making expensive mistakes.

I started my shotgun training in the late 60s and early 70s. I had mentors — the late Callanan brothers of Cambridge, Massachusetts — and read Gun Digest and O’Connor and Keith. They taught me a lot, but only the Callanans were reliable oracles. Betsy Huntington later said that we should have bought a Purdey and a Boss back then and been done with it. Instead, we traded through perhaps a hundred guns, gaining our education but losing a lot of money.

Very few books that came along in those years were worth the price. Don Zutz, a quirky Michiganer, wrote two books that were more right than wrong. A Missouri school teacher, Michael McIntosh, before he became a white-bearded eminence, wrote a modest book called The Best Double Guns Ever Made in America. I eventually tried my hand at it myself (too soon), producing Good Guns and Good Guns Again. Zutz’s books and mine were full of mistakes; McIntosh seems to have survived the ravages of time better. This book is in their spirit, but is better and more accurate than any of them.

Fine Shotguns briefly defines what a high-grade shotgun is, then covers America’s best doubles; Britain’s finest, with a heavy emphasis on London guns; the Continent, not counting Spain and Italy, which have their own section; such arcana as hammerguns, smallbores, and pairs. He then lays out all the parts, pieces, and features of a shotgun — stocks, fit, checkering, barrels, finishing; tells you why a bespoke shotgun is special; he tells you how to shoot a fine shotgun and what kind of ammo to use, the good implication being that you WILL shoot your shotgun. He talks about care and gunsmithing. And finally, he deals with that fraught subject, shopping for one.

Necessarily, such a book will be broad, but perhaps a bit shallow. If it wasn’t, it would be six inches thick, cost $500, and no one would buy it. Instead, Skyhorse has given us a 240 page, high- quality paperback, printed in China, for $35, which probably would have saved me five figures had I had it around in 1975. Buy it.

Helen Rockstar!

Randy Davis wrote me today to tell me about a signing for Tom McGuane’s new book– I will delay getting it until I can get an inscribed one in Denver. He was at the Strand with Tom Brokaw.

“My oldest son went to see/hear the McGuane – Brokaw show at  Strand  Books in Manhattan.  Late in the session there was the usual question about what are you reading now, McGuane answered  and I’m paraphrasing, a lovely book that I thought had no commercial prospects, but has proven otherwise: H for Hawk.”

Otherwise indeed! Two big time British literary awards for a personal memoir with falconry is unusual. But I am not sure anyone I ever knew has had as meteoric a rise as Pluvialis in the US…

Partisan? You bet! But consider: this past week she had TWO NYT rave reviews , one Wall Street Journal, one Atlantic, one “Daily Beast”, a long article about her with a photo in the New Yorker, and an NPR interview on Wednesday in which she quoted me– on my birthday! A fine present for my slightly scary 65th…

So in her honor, from her blog Fretmarks, a 2006 description of a Gos in the riparian forest on the Syrdarya in Uzbekistan. You may want to go out and get H is for Hawk when you finish.

“Just near here, I looked up and thought I saw a man standing in a tree.
That’s what my brain told me, momentarily. A man in a long overcoat
leaning slightly to one side.

“And then I saw it wasn’t a man, but a goshawk.

“Moments like this are very illuminating. I’d never thought before, much,
about the actual phenomenology of human-hawk resemblance, the one that
must have brought forth all those mythological hawk-human bonds I’ve
studied for so long.

“I looked at a hawk in a tree, but I saw a man. How curious.

“This goshawk must have been eighty feet away, so dark against the bright
morning sun, so I couldn’t see whether he was facing me or the river.
His short head and snaky neck craned: he was looking at me.

“I raised my binoculars to my eyes as slowly as I could, half-closing my
eyes so my lashes fringed the glare. There. There he was. The glare
wasn’t so bad. I could see his edges very clearly. The light was very
bright. But I could also faintly see the horizontal barring on his chest
feathers. This was an adult male goshawk, and he looked very different
from the ones at home. He reminded me of old photographs of goshawks
flown by falconers on the northwest frontier. Hell, he was
one of these goshawks. He had a dark, dark head with a flaring pale
eyebrow, and the bars on his chest were close-set and far from the hazy,
broken lines of European birds. Imagine tracing—with a ruler—each
horizontal line of a narrow-ruled notebook with a thick, dark-grey
felt-tip pen. That’s what his front looked like, through the glare. And
he was standing on a bare branch and making up his mind what I was,
exactly, and what he should do about it.

“Slowly, he unfolded his wings, as if putting on a coat, and then, rather
quietly and leisurely, he took to the air, one long leg and
loosely-clenched foot trailing as he went. I was astonished by how
long-winged he was, and how much he looked like a big — albeit
long-tailed — falcon. His shape was very different from the goshawks at
home. He was a migrant gos; he’d travelled down mountains and across the
plains to winter here.

“Happy Pluvialis! I wandered back to camp, had a snooze, compared bird
notes, smoked a cigarette and had a cup of coffee. Halimjan made soup
for lunch; there it was, bubbling in the cast-iron pot over the gas
flame and we were sitting around our red plastic table chewing on stale
bread waiting for the soup, and all our heads went up at once. A noise
like ripping, tearing hessian, like a European Jay, only with real
terror in it, was coming towards us right there
and we watched — and slow as syrup and fast as a blink all at once,
came the male gos trying his damnest to catch a magpie; they flashed
right through the trees in front of the table, and gos nearly had a foot
to the magpie before he saw us — five humans and a fire and a truck and
a Giant Red Table right below
him — ack! — wave off! wave off! — and the magpie dove downwards to the
fork of a branch, crouching like a man avoiding a blow, and the gos
spooled away through the trees. He looked like a coin falling through
water, flashing silver and grey. Some kind of metal. A very fierce one.
Potassium, Sodium, Goshawk.”

Malcolm

I ma hoping you are all reading Malcolm Brooks’s Painted Horses, at least as much for your pleasure as because he is a friend who deserves it– for why would I be saying such good things about a bad writer? (There is a Russ Chatham story about beautiful women who are not quite as bright and talented as they think, and I have no intention of navigating THOSE waters late on Friday night!)

Meanwhile Malcolm has been busy. Here is his NYT “Opinionator” piece, about Glacier, his kids, and change,  albeit truncated and with some of the most inappropriate and uninformed comments you could (not?) imagine. I may publish it uncut later.

And his review of the Book of books, which makes me blush, here (which he had a hard time placing, because nobody knew what genre to assign my book to).

reading in Denver

Book Review #2

I have been promising a review of Paula Young Lee’s Deer Hunting in Paris for what seems like forever, and I apologize for taking so long. Part of it was thinking my way through to what I thought exactly or critically. I loved it and found it intensely quotable; on the other hand I found the tone of some passages a little frenetic, full of word- drunk riffing, perhaps fueled by a deconstructionist lit grad student’s love of multiple meanings.

Curiously, my friend Gerry’s positive but slightly critical review here, which faults her editor for not disciplining her tendency to wander, made me realize that I like such digression! I decided my best way to give you a glimpse of her work was to summarize, quickly, then quote. Read Gerry, then my selections, and you will know whether this sort of book is for you.

Deer Hunting in Paris is called a memoir, though Gerry thinks of it as a journal. Its double subtitles stretch to a Victorian length: “A memoir of God, guns, and game meat; how a preacher’s daughter refuses to get married, travels the world, and learns to shoot.” Paula Young Lee is an ethnic Korean preacher’s daughter from Maine, who when the book opens is living in Paris, France, from which she travels regularly to Paris Maine and Wellesley Massachusetts, to hunt with her boyfriend.

 The book progresses gradually from her childhood through her relationship with her boyfriend (a contrast to her in every way,  Republican to her Democrat, wanting to get married while she doesn’t, country to her city), while describing her education as a hunter. Meanwhile, she riffs compulsively about everything from the nature of hunting to cookbooks to the amazing hilarious Maine sellers’ newsletter Uncle Henry’s and the nature of writing. Some of her observations are serious, some inspired, and some silly, which doesn’t mean they’re not fun.

Each of these are best demonstrated by quotes. Silly? From Uncle Henry’s, a few examples of ads :”I have an unknown sex bearded dragon… Arthritic salmon with flies in box… 3 year old running walker female trained on coyotes cold nose will run nonstop parents were cat dogs… gaggle of running gravelys too old to pull the straps too old to walk behind.” Or her quotes from the index of an 1830 cookbook implausibly titled The Cook Not Mad: “BEDBUGS, to keep clear of; COOKIES, nice that will keep good three months; FEMALES’ DRESS, to put out when on fire.” (I want that book!)

On the writing life: “I wasn’t looking for love, drugs, yoga classes, or any other ‘girl’ narratives attached to stories about free spirits traveling alone. When your trips abroad are being paid for by your father/divorce settlement/ publisher, you’re not free. You’re expensive.”

Pure riffing? How about this one on Squirrel Nutkin? “The death of mice, moles, and minnows don’t get most folks riled up about animal cruelty, especially since cute fluffy squirrels are doing the killing. So what if they’re offering up lesser animals as sacrifices? It’s the only way that the owl won’t eat them, for the powerful are blessed by God, and they keep their wealth by doing His will. Only a nut rejects a perfectly profitable system that forces the poor to beg for food and pay a hideous price for the privilege. Hey ho… Nutkin! He’s a red-headed rebel, a leader of the autonomous collective, a socialist- communist- Nazi- anarchist- terrorist- tree- hugger out to sow chaos in Eden. Wherefore he’s the Devil’s handmaiden.”

Above all, and past all the silliness, she is drop-dead serious about the nature of hunting. “I now insist on eating birds and mammals, preferably wild ones shot by the man I love but won’t marry, their bodies made into meat by our hands joined together. I don’t feel guilty about it, sez the girl for whom a bee sting is lethal. Death is the promise. It is an intelluctable truth, for Nature is a murderous mother offering food every where we look… I am hungry. Such is the human condition. We hope and despair, rejoice and revile, celebrate and curse the profane absurdity of being apes rigged up in angels’ wings.”

“Angels don’t eat. Apes covet meat.”

Maybe I love it because I am a discursive, digressive, riffing writer myself. But I do, and I am liking it better even as I mine the text for quotes. I’d hunt with her any time, and will look forward to anything she writes.

Book review # 1

Do you want to know what a real rancher thinks? There are some excellent novels by “ranchers and…”; that is, writers who come to ranching from something else. But if there is another first- rate writer who comes from three generations on the harsh plains of eastern Montana, I don’t know of him. John Moore is the real deal,  a poet and novelist who believes in saving the Sage grouse but not that government regulations are the best way to do it; who loves horses, but thinks it is tragic that horse slaughter is forbidden by sentimentalists who cause more pain than they save (actually John has written more sensibly about horses than most anybody recently).

I will not go on too long about his newest book, Looking for Lynne, because I have blurbed it, as follows: “John L Moore, rancher, horseman, poet, and serious novelist, is unembarrassed about the cowboy way; relentless in his examination of politically correct dogma, and darkly humorous. Looking for Lynne is suspenseful and sad, funny and moving and true.” But as I have emphasized his seriousness, let me give you a little of his dry wit.

“Have any of you boys been to Elko?” Garcia asked.

“You mean the big cowboy poetry gathering?” Barney said.

“That’d be slumming for Renaissance men”,  Joe joked.

“Slumming?” Garcia. “You don’t like cowboy poetry?”

“Barn Wall’s got nothing against cowboy poets,” Ezra said. “Except that half of them aren’t cowboys and fewer are poets.”

“What?” Garcia said. “I don’t believe this. I love cowboy poetry.”

Nothing wrong with it,” Joe said. “Except they need to cull the herd. They’ve been reproducing too quickly and overstocking the country.”

Belated…

Mini-reviews of new books by Friends- of- Q- Blog, with apologies for now- constant tardiness.

Moro Rogers first published book is a graphic novel, City in the Desert . Moro may be trained as an animator, but she has a subtle mind and a deadly sense of humor, and, as one reviewer notes, there is a lot going on here beyond the tale of a human monster hunter and his (human?) female partner, who has a tail, in a decaying desert civilization. Her graphic style is loose and breezy and to my mind more kinetic (and amusing) than many I have seen, and is enhanced by her life- long studies of animals of every kind. Her storytelling instincts are a novelist’s. Beware only in that this is the first of three volumes, and stops rather abruptly.

Karen Myers’ King of the May is the latest in her VERY original take on– call it Elfland,  but with some twists, volume three in The Hounds of Annwn (not a typo). Karen has blended the traditional English lore of a spooky adult- style elfland– think Tam Lin, the Wild Hunt, perhaps a bit of the solemn Elves of Tolkien– with Virginia Hunt country and hound lore and a bit of alternate Universe theory (no Pleistocene extinction on this line, though this is subtle). Good adventure and intrigue in a beautifully detailed, well- constructed world,  starting (in To Carry the Horn ) when her protagonist George Traherne, a master of hounds, passes from his own Blue Ridge hunt into the midst of a different one…

Gun Books for Boys, Parents, and Girls…

Silvio Calabi and his team released the amazing Gun Book for Boys a couple of weeks ago. I opened it with interest; Silvio has been a fine editor and writer (last year’s Hemingway’s Guns, reviewed here, is a favorite) and good correspondent for years, and he was the somewhat unlikely advisor who recommended I take up yoga after I got PD– not what you might expect of a Newton- raised coastal Maine- based shooting writer who loves double shotguns as much as I do.

I expected good but was nevertheless amazed at its breadth, depth, and good sense. It was the best primer I have ever seen. I wrote to him : “The Gun Book for Boys is the best gun book for beginners ever, whether for boys, girls, or adults. Even those who think with reason that they already know enough about guns will benefit from its organization and idiosyncratic detail not to mention its unfailing good sense– I have written 1 1/2 gun books myself and countless articles and still enjoyed leafing through the pages… Libby swears it puts what she knows in context, historical and other, and she has been exposed to guns all her life. You may quote me!’

I then added; “…between us; strategically, was “boys” the best decision re title? As a word only,and I am utterly anti- pc, I would have preferred ‘kids’…”

He must have laughed, because “strategically” he was ‘way ahead of me. He responded: “Your comment about ‘Boys’ Book is spot- on; however this A) causes mild controversy, which is good, and B) opens the door for… The Gun Book for Girls.. which will follow The Gun Book For Parents.” D’oh!

I now have my Parents which is even more practically useful, if perhaps not as full of historical nuggets, and can’t wait to see Girls; the books have no repetetive filler at all, but are original from the ground up. Ten stars.

I should add that grandson Eli already has his copy (though more of an age to taste it than digest) as do my Graham nephews and their parents, and I would not be at all surprised to see remarks from Peculiar or sister Karen incoming…

Good Books

I endorse and will soon cover in detail: Silvio Calabi’s The Gun Book for Boys, which may be the best beginner’s gun manual ever; David Quammen’s Spillover (these will be my first two reviews); Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (was life at Henry VIII’s court any less fraught or terrifying than at Stalin’s?) and Birds of Central Asia (a collaboration, from Princeton University Press. Magnus Nillson’s Faviken is unique, full of good game and radical advice– hanging Capercaillie for 30 days, woodcock BEFORE migration, rifles for birds and 22 mags for deer. Not used to seeing trendy Euro cookbooks with ballistic advice…

I hope everybody is already reading Cat and Tom McIntyre and (ahem) me. Coming soon, still in galleys: Gun Guys by Dan Baum, a self- described Boulder liberal with a carry concealed permit, and as far as I can tell a genuine gun nut as well, perceptive and funny and original. Vermont poet, teacher, and bird hunter Sidney Lea has written a new memoir, A North Country Life, also still in galleys, that is even better than his first. Something is coming down the road a bit by iconoclastic wilderness advocate (and self- described New Mexico redneck) Dave Foreman. And with this week the way it is I am SURE I have forgotten something.

Born to Hunt

John Barsness has just released his latest book, Born to Hunt, a collection of essays that ranges from his home in Montana to Africa and the Arctic, along with more obscure destinations like Norway and Ireland.

If you read magazines you surely know that John is one of the most prolific “gun writers” alive, as well as one of the most experienced hunters. What more casual readers may not realize is that John, who started as a poet (and the son of a Montana-born English professor) is one of the most lyrical hunting writers around, as well as one who has truly lived “the life of the hunt” (which is also the title of his last collection of essays). He and his wife Eileen Clark eat more game than anyone else I know, including me — and we eat far more game than domestic meat. They are also both good writers.

This collection, though well-rooted in the Rockies and the north country and alive with elk and mule deer, moose and caribou and grizzly and the ways of the Inuit, roams as far afield as John has — which is to say as far as anyone I know who was not born with a trust fund. If I have one (minor) whining complaint it is that his only mentions of game birds are glancing if elegant asides on such as sage grouse; I’d love to see more bird hunting.But this is a book about big game and food, and maybe as befits a sixty-ish hunter, mortality.

John knows the Real Things and Big Truths. On wilderness, he quotes Teddy Roosevelt saying that Roosevelt “…grew up in the cradle of 19th century civilization, part of an aristocratic New York family, but felt healthy humans needed occasional time with naked nature.” Roosevelt said of hunting and the wilderness that “the wilderness hunter must not only show skill in the use of the rifle and address in finding and approaching game, but he must also show the qualities of hardihood, self-reliance, and resolution needed for effectively grappling with his wild surroundings. The fact that the hunter needs the game, both for the meat and for its hide, undoubtedly adds zest to the pursuit.”

He also knows that real hunting, where you pack everything out, is brutally hard work as well as fun. Eileen has badly compromised lungs because of a rare disease, but is one of the hardest hunters I know. She “…packed half the ewe out on her back a round in her 30-06’s chamber as we hiked through grizzly country smelling like fresh blood. You cannot buy a day like that, or meat that tastes like mountain meadows, or the God’s-eye view from timberline, where the mountains rise in a line from Canada and the prairies disappear in the earth’s curve. The only way you can find that particular part of the Rockies is to climb it yourself, each step like the hard pulse of a mountain’s heart.”

He knows the scarier truths: that when you are out there in the wilderness, asleep in a tent, “…there come memories beyond our five external senses, deeply imbedded reminders that there isn’t much separating us from all that is around us, whether the darkness beyond the fire the stars wavering in the heat waves from the wall tent’s stove pipes, are lions or grizzly bears.” But he knows purely funny truths too, including one that I have noticed myself, birding with an old PH in Hwange in Zimbabwe: “African professional hunters, unlike many North Americans, don’t regard bird-watching as a subversive if not actually wimpy activity. Russell, who shot hundreds of elephant and buffalo on control, proved just as adept at identifying a saddle-billed stork or a cape teal.” There are even nuggets of useful advice and hard-earned knowledge — the skills you need to ride in a horseback pack hunt; the fact, that seems utterly unremarkable to me, that you are as likely to find good meat on a big-racked bull as on a fat doe (I think over-privileged trophy hunters use the cliche of the inedible big bull as an excuse to give away the meat. The more for me!)

Finally there is a poet’s delight in pure writing. To find a big mule deer “…his hard land must be entered softly without breaking the horizon with our bi-pedal stance. We must ease inside — and then sit down, like some high country accountant and pore over the same land again and again, rechecking the same columns of numbers, until we find the big-antlered anomaly in all that tilted space.” Or, on Cape Buffalo “We probed the herd’s perimeter like infantry, armed only with my .416, Russell’s old .458, and just enough adrenaline to make buffalo appear like black holes in green space.

Go to Rifles and Recipes and buy this one. And The Life of the Hunt, and Rifle Loony, and Eileen’s big cookbook (perhaps the most useful game cookbook ever; after all, what other cookbook writer eats no domestic meat?) or, with confidence, just about anything else there.

And here’s John with his latest, post-book buff, taken with that CZ .416, which I sold him a long time ago and he modified to be something like Harry Selby’s– the story is in Rifle Loony.