I usually don't review books that are a decade old (although in this case the softcover came out in 2006), but I will make a few exceptions for books I discover ex post facto. This is one of those circumstances; until Bill Jordan sent me a copy of this book in the mail, I was blissfully ignorant of its existence.
This could be because I have not seen any discussion of Frank Soos' Bamboo Fly Rod Suite: Reflections on Fishing and the Geography of Grace, (University of Georgia Press, 2006) in any of the places I frequent, and I think that's a shame. It is one of the more beautiful little books on fishing and bamboo rods I've read in recent memory.
Soos is an English professor from Alaska who won the prestigious Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. The book is short (72 pages), concise, and an absolute model for anyone seeking to command the English language. The story revolves around a 1930s Shakespeare Bamboo fly rod that Soos painstakingly restores and then takes fishing. It turns into a voyage of discovery. What place in the fast-paced modern world is there for a bamboo rod constructed over half a century before? This is the questions he seeks to answer. Along the way, he learns not just about bamboo rods and the culture of fly fishing, but what meaning there is in his act of resurrecting a relic.
For what rationale is there in restoring a rod that has no real value? Soos considers buying a new custom built bamboo rod instead. He rejects the idea, however, and writes at one point, after tossing a catalogue containing $2000 bamboo fly rods into the trash:
What am I saying when I laugh and flip the catalogue in the trash and I just say, "No"? It's a harder question than it looks to be. It is the question of my life. How to have the beauty of the man in the boat--the long graceful cast, the rod catching the sunlight as the bamboo flexes, the absolute stillness of the lake--and have it honestly come by?
After refinishing the Shakespeare, he is told the action of the rod is "too slow" for modern fishing, but discovers it fits his personality quite well. The rod serves to open a new world to him, a slower, thoughtful purpose, a life of reflection instead of hurrying from place to place. And although it brings him a measure of peace, it cannot bring him solace. "No fishing rod can solve my problem," he laments at one point. "My problem is that the world itself has so little understanding of and places so little value on slowness."
Bamboo Fly Rod Suite itself is a panacea for troubled times, a small book to be read slowly, every word pondered until the last sentence--which rivals Norman MacLean--is done.
The book is widely available from most book stores, including from Amazon.com.
-- Dr. Todd