Mark Kingwell, Catch & Release

I'm glad for several reasons that I've now read Mark Kingwell's Catch & Release: Trout Fishing and the Meaning of Life, one of which is simply (and selfishly) that I'll now find it much easier to remember that he and Malcolm Gladwell are in fact two separate people. (There was a time that I had the same trouble with Elton John and Billy Joel, for some reason, but I'm older now.) It's kind of an odd book, and I'm not convinced that he and Penguin, his publisher, ever really got a handle on who their target market was and what consistent approach might best be taken, but I greatly enjoyed pieces of it even if I found it strangely variable in its approach and subject(s).

I'm guessing that this book has found its way into the Christmas stockings and under the Christmas trees of many a fisherman over the last few years, and that many a fisherman has given up reading it fairly early, if they weren't deterred altogether by the back cover, on which Kingwell complains to his family members dragging him along on a fishing weekend, "I will sit in the back of the boat reading The Critique of Pure Reason, but I will not fish." When Kingwell uses the phrase "the meaning of life" in his title, we are not talking here about the philosophizing practiced and promoted by David James Duncan and lesser writers (Richard Bach, Robert Pirsig, and their ilk). We're talking about Kant and Hegel and the rest of them, the luminaries whom even most intellectuals try to learn about rather than to read directly. Sure, there's plenty of talk about catching small rainbows by dry fly or wet fly, stories about Royal Coachmen and green nymphs and whatnot, but there's also Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein.

You'd be right, I think, if you imagined I was roughly the target market for this sort of thing. But even I wondered where Kingwell was off to, more than once, with his digressions and perambulations.

There were some great lines, though: the time spent at night clubs the evening before the fishing begins, for example, had me laughing out loud at a couple of points. Kingwell's regular insults against his brothers, who don't get to respond in print, were often very funny indeed, partly because of the extra joke that he gets to write about it and they don't. Possibly worth the price of admission all on its own, even though the section might have been dropped randomly into this book from some entirely separate project, is his reasoned discrimination between the painfully closely related categories of boredom, procrastination, and despair (up to the point of mental paralysis), because it's exceptionally thoughtful and well-written, and because it speaks to so much of my life as a university instructor.

Of course, if you've read as far as this into this commentary, you're probably thinking that this is a pretty scattered sort of review. And you'd be right. It's a scattered sort of book, and it turns out I'm unable to respond otherwise to it.

This book purports to be about The Weekend, an annual event at which the Kingwell boys and their father (and also Fred) get together and fish. It really is about that, but it's also about the consolations of philosophy, the urban/rural divide, the awfulness of baseball caps and risotto (separately), New York versus the rest of the world, and the value of male friendship among men whose acquaintances are mostly female. Excellent ingredients, but an odd cocktail: maybe you'll love it, though. Who am I to say?


Anonymous said…
Though years have passed from the time of this book's publication to your review and now my comment, I am just now in the process of finishing said book and I agree with you. Great review.

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