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Brook Trout and the Writing Life: The Intermingling of Fishing and Writing in a Novelist's Life    by Craig Nova order for
Brook Trout and the Writing Life
by Craig Nova
Order:  USA  Can
Eno, 2011 (2011)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

When I was nine years old, my family spent our vacation at Big Stone Lake, Minnesota. I was an adventurous child and decided that I wanted to catch a fish. Since I didn't have a fishing pole, I invented one. No one in my family fished, so I don't know how the idea came into my head. But my parents were supportive and once I had attached a long piece of string to a branch and made a hook out of a safety pin, my mom gave me a small piece of ham to use as bait. Needless to say, no fish were biting near me that day.

Reading Brook Trout and the Writing Life, I could wish that my father, like Craig Nova, had been a fisherman. One of my favorite parts of this engaging memoir has Craig showing his three-year-old daughter how to fly fish for brook trout. 'Now, as anyone knows,' Craig writes, 'trying to catch a fish on cue, on demand, is a perilous activity,' but he really wanted his child to be able to understand his love for fishing. Amazingly enough, on his first cast he pulled a big, sparkling brookie from the stream and showed it off to his daughter and wife. 'Christina and Abbey made a sound of sweet surprise,' before he released the trout.

The interwoven stories of Craig's family, writing, and fishing are what make this book such a joy to read. His wife owned a stone house about two hours from New York City, where they were living when they first met. She invited him up to the house one weekend and as he walked around through the woods on that property, he found a stream called Fish Cabin, where Christina, who would become his wife, said there were fish. Later she gave him a new bamboo fly rod with a reel, and he began to learn how to use it during their weekend visits to the stone house.

Craig Nova was a beginning writer at that time, and he found that when he was having trouble with his writing, or with his attempts to publish, taking some time in the early evening to fish for brook trout would calm him down and give him the mental push that he needed to continue writing, even if the book hadn't seemed to be going anywhere that he liked. As time passed, going fishing helped him with all sorts of family situations, too, sometimes caused by the difficulties he faced trying to get published and the need to make money on his books to support his wife and daughter. The family moves to the stone house to save money after Abbey is born, and living in such tight quarters with a relatively new wife and a brand-new baby caused friction. The relief and pleasure that fishing brought Craig helped to bring them through these difficult times.

Although this book is diverting because of the stories that Nova tells, it's even more delightful because of the beautiful, concise style of the writing. His description of brook trout illustrates this well. 'Brook trout are the most beautiful of fish. They are streamlined and quick moving, having tails that are the color of hickory bark and the texture of wet silk. There are delicate rays in the tails as well, ridges that are fine and symmetrical. It is the coloring, though, which distinguishes them. They are dark, either brown or bluish brown on the back, and they are almost impossible to see from above unless there are shadows. On their sides, however, they are marked differently: The color of the back gives way to a silvery brown and then to a satinlike and dark silver which is spotted with circles of brown and light brown' - and he continues to describe the fish in this way until you know exactly why he likes them.

I enjoyed the many stories about different places and times Craig fished and the fish he caught, but I particularly appreciated the humorous ones. He found one pond that was so full of trout that he could easily pull fish after fish from the water whenever he went there. Once when he was fishing this pond, a truck pulled up with a couple of guys who watched him, apparently certain that if there were fish in that pond, they would see him catch some. He was sure that if they saw how easily he caught fish there, they would take every fish in the pond, stocking their freezers and eventually throwing most of them out. At that time he was fishing for pleasure, throwing his fish back, so he pretended to put a fly on his line as they watched and never caught a thing until they finally drove off in disgust. Interesting stories like this told in an compelling way made this book a delight to read. I enjoyed it thoroughly and highly recommend it.

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