In No Shortage of Good Days John Gierach takes readers from the Smokies in Tennessee to his home waters in Colorado, from the Canadian Maritimes to Mexico—saltwater or fresh, it’s all fishing and all irresistible. As always he writes perceptively about a wide range of subjects: the charm of familiar waters, the etiquette of working with new fishing guides, night fishing when the trout and the mosquitoes are both biting, and fishing snobbery, a pitfall he seems to have largely avoided: “A friend and I recently realized that making fly-fishing a way of life instead of a hobby has made us a couple of pretty one-dimensional characters. On the other hand, we agreed we’re two of the happiest people we know, albeit in a simple-minded sort of way.”
Gierach again demonstrates the wit, eloquence, and insight that have become his trademarks. No Shortage of Good Days is the next best thing to a day of fishing.
We immerse ourselves in Gierach's world for his simple, often-humorous insights--- and a glimpse into a simple life built around fly fishing, and it would be difficult to get that fix if he was hanging from helicopters in a former soviet republic or crowding a camera lens yelling "badass!" over and over.
Fortunately, no high fives mar Gierach's latest effort, and you can either be thankful or disappointed, though given Gierach's ability to sell books, it seems many fishermen happily chose the former.
In *No Shortage of Good Days,* Gierach offers the usual mix of essay subjects, and though this book feels like it rambles a teensy bit more than his earlier efforts, he still delivers the goods, and does so in a way that invokes what I'll loosely call "the larger picture."
When you reach your mid-60s it seems natural to tumble the larger picture around in your head a lot more than when you were 35, and while Gierach isn't threatening to retire (then again, I didn't ask), he is writing passages like this:
My generation has been especially prone to this kind of foolishness, and I'm not the only one of us who woke up in his early 40s--- with not much more than a pot to piss in--- thinking, Okay, I'm functionally self-aware and I know how to fish. Now what? On the other hand, fishing when the fishing is as good as you've seen it in years can seem like a civic duty. And for that matter, it's comforting to live by your wits in one of the few places left on earth where your wits are sufficient. In the end, you may never get it exactly right--- Annie Dillard said, "There is no shortage of good days; it's good lives that are hard to come by" --- but it's still worth trying.
This book lacks the darker edge of *Grave of the Unknown Fisherman* and the optimistically uplifting feel of his earliest books, and the latter is wholly understandable -- if your perspective doesn't shift over the course of 25 odd years, then you might want to check yourself for signs of fossilization.
What emerges is a snapshot of a fly fisherman who has made a choice many of us wonder if we *should* have made--- and is now looking hard at the significance of it.
To his credit, he doesn't exactly flinch from the looking, nor does he populate the book with droning monologues about what it all means. It's just included along with the reports about which flies worked best on which streams, and somehow, he makes it seem relevant.
The Small Stuff
One aspect of No Shortage of Good Days immediately captured my interest; what appeared to be a real spike in Gierach's love affair with small waters.
He does the big-water trips to Baja and for Atlantic salmon, but a surprising chunk of the book was devoted to smaller waters and even smaller fishing parties, and like it always is with Gierach, I found myself moving through his essays, nodding along at what feel like "universal" insights (like most of humanity, I mistakenly assume the rest of the universe shares my exact tastes).
Outside of the small stream efforts, a favorite essay was titled "Cheating," which offered something of a history of some of fly fishing's class wars (nymphing, etc). Like many of the essays in the book, I wished it had gone longer.
No Shortage of Good Days also showcases Gierach's ability to wrap seemingly insignificant details into his narrative which add immeasurably to the story, and I fully admit that I don't really know how he does that.
It's very easy to drown your words in details that appear superfluous, and in fact, it almost always turns out they are.
In Gierach's case, mentioning the combined smell of diesel fuel and cow flop in the same breath he uses to describe the best steak dinner he ever ate shouldn't necessarily work, but there it is (and yes it does).
Gierach's best skill as a writer has always been his ability to wander through a fishing trip, picking out the relevant pieces and enhancing the narrative with insight gained elsewhere--- all of which happens just prior to the reader's arrival at a point he often never saw coming.
The one aspect often explored with *less* depth than before are the characters accompanying him on his fishing trips; we got to know people like AK Best, Ed Engle and Mike Clark in some depth, yet those populating Gierach's modern essays seem less fully revealed.
Gierach suggests that's simply because he doesn't have three decades of history with most of today's fishing buddies, and that he's traveling alone more often ("It's a recession," he said. "Everybody's broke.")
The Big Finish
I'm tempted to suggest the obvious; with 16 essay books still in print (dating back to 1986, a remarkable record), those who like Gierach will buy this book because it's recognizably his work, and those that don't like his work won't be swayed by a review.
In that vein, one of the worst things a writer can hear is that their latest effort is basically more of the same, but in this case, this *is* more wholly recognizable Gierach writing, which could be a bad thing if so many of us didn't put down his last book wishing he'd tacked on just one more essay (and one more after that, and...).
No Shortage of Good Days offers us the usual engrossing mix of straight reportage, insight, and goofy anthropomorphism alongside a larger perspective on a life that most of us envy, yet couldn't (or won't) embrace, and that aspect of it made it seem engrossing and relateable.