The writing of Seth Norman

The other day my friend and I did an exchange of sorts. He and his wife got oxtail. I got his left over beers, a good bottle of wine and the loan of a book. I should consider myself lucky. He would have digested the oxtail in a few hours, and I haven’t yet returned the last book he lent me. Truth be told the oxtail was an experiment: a mix of three rather dodgy looking online recipes, each of which attempt to condense the cooking time of oxtail from six hours to two, and none of which I followed with any dedication. And not only have I failed to return his last book, I haven’t even started reading it.
I was assured though, that what I consider a poor quality, gonzo picture of the author on the cover of this latest tome, should not put me off. Its the second edition.Bright blue surf breaking in the background. A bright red text box bearing the title. An arguably overexposed picture, but with the fisherman’s face in shade. 1970’s movie star blue reflective sunglasses, and after a while I noticed that the weird groin protrusion was in fact a fish, its form poorly contrasted between the mans legs and some or other rag being used as a glove to hold its tail. The right arm is held off to the side, clutching a fly rod rather clumsily……
OK, let me stop bashing the cover .
Inside is sheer brilliance.
My prejudice normally has me skipping chapters on bass, catfish and the like. Seth Norman’s skill as a writer had me relishing pieces on bait fishing!  Actually the pieces on bait fishing, spinning and saltwater species, like those on Trout, were not about fishing at all. They are about death, love, lust, justice, schizophrenia, and nomadic travelling experiences. The fishing is just the glue that holds the pages together, and it serves to attract obsessed flyfishermen like me to topics broader than fly choice and casting techniques. Norman draws you into contemplation of your father’s death, your career and lifestyle choice, and your spirit of generosity or otherwise. He causes you to lose your mind. When he has you in there, he holds you there with fishing tales, and humour, and sentences that you read three times just to roll them around in your head a bit. I found myself wanting to suck the marrow out of the pages somehow. Maybe I will sleep with it under my pillow.
Allow me to quote a few lines:
“…..we’re four thousand feet into a narrow Sierra pass. Cliff wall to the right, cliff wall to the left and in the high beams we see a great white yacht broadside, an oceangoing yacht blocking the highway from shoulder to shoulder. “What’s that?” Mor asks, naturally enough……..
………….“No matter. I know another stream behind us and south. As we bed down in a campground, Mor in front, me over the cab, I hear him laugh again. “Noahs Ark. Does that kind of thing, do things like that happen often on these trips?’’
I consider . “Arks not so often. But a fishing trip is always a meander. You can’t quite know what will come up.”
“You like that?”
“I do.”
He pauses. We each have a small skylight to look through; through mine I can see an edge of cloud silvered by moonlight. Once more, Mor laughs, long, happily. “Of course. Of course you do. You’ve always liked that.”
If you enjoyed “The river Why” by David James Duncan, or “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”,  you will enjoy this one for sure.
Not that my opinion counts in the shadow of a Pulitzer nomination, but Seth Norman, I salute you.
I must own a copy for sure, because this one will  be re-read.
To the great Nick Lyons:  I somehow only got to know about this book after its second edition ( It was first published back in 1996!) , but Sir…could you do something about that 2nd Ed cover ? A sunset maybe. A Trout? Revert to the first edition cover maybe? Maybe a rod and reel in soft light? No?   Okay no problem, I am buying the book anyway.
Seth Norman
The first edition is pictured left. I have ordered one…a second hand one. I found it on some or other online store.  I hope it arrives. It cost half of next year’s Christmas bonus. I know, I’m  an astute investor. No, you may not borrow it. Not even in exchange for good oxtail.


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4 Responses

    1. Howard, we boiled the hell out of the oxtail for just two and a half hours, and with enough soup powder, red wine and Bovril/vegemite it was tender and delicious. I read the book almost as quickly and it was even better. I have since bought another book of Seth’s : “the flyfishers guide to crimes of passion”, and can’t wait to get reading !

  1. Howard,
    Delighted you like Meanderings: you got it, salute honored. I also loved your roast of the cover, though it’s probably true that in person I actually look “arguably overexposed,” and shadowed; and, these days, rather badly wrinkled.
    And because of that, I tried and failed to convince my publisher to use an entirely different jacket image, something with humor, or pathos, and without any “protrusion” suggesting a wardrobe malfunction with codpiece. Maybe if I someday decide to reissue the book it on my ownsome…
    Meanwhile, thanks not just for the praise, but your grasp.
    Best to you and your friends here,
    Seth Norman

    1. Thank you Seth, and apologies for the roasting concerning the cover 🙂 …all in good humour. But I will say it again: mighty fine writing!
      Might there perhaps be another book one day…..? Andrew

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