Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Sportsman's Library Project...

It started with that old (1942) ex-library copy of Marjorie Rawling's Cross Creek, which I found rummaging in a thrift store while in town running errands this morning. They're worth exactly nuthin', but I've always been a sucker for those old library discards with their intoxicating old book smell and their stolid library bindings and their tattered book pockets with the names and stamped due dates of long-gone students. I like to take them off the shelf and read them, look through them, and wonder about all the people who read them before me. Idle silliness, I know, but I'm a silly man.

This particular copy, which I assume has been floating around the Woodward (Okla.) high school library for the past half-century or so, looks like it was last checked out in September of 1990 (kind of surprising, actually. I'd have guessed much earlier) before being jettisoned from the stacks forever in some modernizing literary pogrom. Who knows how it came to be where I found it? Old books and old guns bob on currents beyond knowing. Best not to, for speculation on their origins and prior history is all part of the enjoyment of owning them, is it not? After I'm gone I'm sure all of mine will be scattered, lost, and hopefully found (preferably in a dusty old book, gun or junkshop) and bought cheap by someone (like me) of very little means and much curiosity. I can think of no better fate for my books and guns (whatever my children don't want) than to be discovered by someone who will appreciate them as much as I have.

At any rate, I saw it, bought it (for a buck) brought it home and put it on the shelf (right next to my equally vintage copy of The Yearling). And that got me to thinking: why not try to collect all one hundred titles in Steve Bodio's A Sportsman's Library? Why the hell not, indeed? I've never done anything like that before. If I'm honest, I'm not much on book or movie lists. I find that most of them, quite frankly, suck (unless it's one I've done, of course). But A Sportsman's Library is such a goddamned good list that I think it'd be a worthy endeavor.

About the book: if you haven't bought it, then by all means go do so now. It doesn't cost many pennies, and it's worth every one. It'd be more than a bit laughable and pretentious for me to "review" it. I'm not a book reviewer. In fact, when it comes to books and music, I'm a disciple of the Justice Stewart Porn Doctrine: I can't define a good book, but I know it when I see it. And A Sportsman's Library is a damn good book.

Oh, I have a few minor quibbles, any subjective list will. I'm not really a Stephen Rinella fan, so I wouldn't have included his book. And River Monsters? I'm gonna have to take your word for it, Steve (although my son and I do enjoy watching the show. Guilty pleasure). I probably would have chosen John Barsness' Western Skies over Life of the Hunt (although I have and love both, Western Skies is simply one of my favorite bird-hunting books).

Probably my biggest gripe is that I wish he'd chosen more books that I already own rather than ones I don't so as to make me look smarter (I'm just being honest). But other than that I have no complaints and much praise. In fact, perhaps the reason I don't have more minor quibbles is that, well damn it, I'm just not very well read, and as a result don't know if Steve's other selections are garbage or not. I kid. I'm thinking not...

In fact, a tally of my bookshelf reveals that I own a grand total of twenty-two of Steve's chosen books. Not even one-fourth. And that's with today's acquisition of Cross Creek. I've always considered myself reasonably well-read, but uh...not so much. Unlike Bodio, no polymath am I. However, in my defense I think I have copies of Waterman's Gun Dogs and Bird Guns, Dinesen's Out of Africa, and Faulkner's Big Woods in boxes somewhere in the garage. I think. So screw it, I'm gonna say I own a quarter of Steve's list, and that's not too shabby for a rube. I've also read a few other titles that I don't own, and own quite a few alternate titles of some of the authors on the list.

But the fact that I've truly never even heard of the majority of the titles or authors on this list is the very reason it's such an awesome list. What the hell would be the point and where the hell would be the fun and discovery in reading about a bunch of books and authors you already know well? That's the key difference between a list of "best books" that's been Googled by some clueless dipshit "editor" and then published as a listicle and a list of books put together by someone as erudite and knowledgeable as Steve Bodio. One is based in experience, rumination and scholarship. The other is cynical clickbait shite that isn't worth a moment's attention, much less a concerted effort to read or collect.

 A few more thoughts: I like the book's layout and design. Good job there. I also like that he included some oddball selections that I recognized, like fellow Okie Burkhardt Bilger's Noodling for Flatheads (Like me, Bilger started out writing for the excellent regional magazine Oklahoma Today. Unlike me, Bilger had the talent to go on to the New Yorker...). Bilger's a great writer, and under-appreciated. I also like that he included a few tips for the prole-income level casual book collectors like myself. Otherwise, I never would have known, for example, to look for the 1966 Abercrombie & Fitch edition of The Book of Saint Albans.

So that's what I'm going to do. I'll start my own little "Sportsman's Library" project, wherein I eventually hunt down and buy and/or steal all the books on Steve's list, beginning with the twenty-two (or maybe twenty-five) already-owned titles you see here.

They're not worth much, of course. The 1972 Scribner's edition of Gasset's Meditations on Hunting (first American edition and first English translation, I think...) is probably the most valuable of the bunch, and that not much due to the missing dust jacket, but they're mine, and good readers. I've had fun finding and reading them over the years, and that's the point, isn't it, discovering something you previously knew nothing about? Broadening your horizons just a bit? Trying something different? Unusual? And that's the point of Steve's book, too. You really should give it a try: the book, and the journey it promises. It should be great fun, and not too expensive, I hope.      


  1. "The Old Man and the Boy" Ruark and "A Hunters Road" Jim Fergus are the most reread in my scattered pile in addition to old GSJ's. Great post. Thanks.

    1. I did a post on Fergus a while back. Always liked him. Ruark is, of course, a classic.

  2. Glad to see in your stacks The Earth is Enough, Trout Bum and The Fragrance of Grass. They are among my favorites. One little book that occupies a narrow niche of interest is the Tenth Legion by Tom Kelly. While about turkey hunters and turkey hunting, it is a hilarious insight into the obsessive side of human nature.

    1. I really need to read that book. I'm a casual turkey hunter, but I've heard it's just a great book. Kelly died last year, didn't he?

    2. Chad, the Colonel is still kickin' at age 87. Gil

    3. Chad, below is the opening "Note" of the Tenth Legion. What follows on the next 119 pages gets better:
      “None of the characters in this book are in any way fictional or imaginary. All of them are real people who have been known to the author for years.
      Statements made herein concerning timber, people or the physiological processes of turkeys are matters of opinion and are subject to discussion.
      Statements made herein concerning the thought processes of turkeys, or deer hunters, are known scientific facts and are not open to question.
      The author declines to debate the accuracy of these with anyone.
      He is, however, perfectly willing to fight about them.”

  3. Chad
    I think its an excellent idea, in fact one I'd regrettably discounted for myself,
    Steve B's book is the best 'list book' I've ever read, I've only read a couple of the books on his list but what I have read is stunning, the rest would be a great reading-jag.

    living where you do i think you're second only to Texas in your chance of filling the list within a year or two. In the UK this would be an ebay project. There must be lots of unwanted first editions of Bell's 'Wanderings' and other safari books here but I've not had any joy finding them at thrift store prices.

    I cant remember if I've mentioned this before but there maybe a chemical description of the bibliophile's affliction. I too love the smell of old library books, and its power to cast my mind to the winds of imagination. Could this be how it happens?


    1. SBW, surprisingly, it's hard even here to find many of the books on Steve's list without resorting to the ether. If I do happen to find duplicates, though, I will send them to you. I don't generally like buying books online, prefer the thrill of discovery and all, but some of them I'm going to have to. The smell, oh yes, it's addictive. That would explain a lot...

    2. Thant's very kind of you, I've been discussing the book smell thing with a fella here, he was talking about distilling essential oils from wild flowers, I think 'eau de bookworm' would be a hit, they made 'new car smell' air fresheners after all

  4. " I probably would have chosen John Barsness' Western Skies over Life of the Hunt (although I have and love both, Western Skies is simply one of my favorite bird-hunting books)."


    What about Chappell's At Home on the Range with a Texas Hunter?

    TX-OK quail etc. I love it and it is local for you.

    1. You know, that's a damn good suggestion, Lucas. I really need to read that.

  5. I'll second the recommendation of Henry!

  6. Great idea Chad; I considered it as well after I bought Steve's book. I found I had a number of the titles already, and have picked up a few more over time. I'm short in the big game department; never much interested me. I might have to get over that.

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