In his book All Fishermen are Liars, John Gierach writes that he “came to know about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula through the writing of Ernest Hemingway, John Voelker (a.k.a. Robert Traver) and later Jim Harrison…. Whatever the reason, the UP is enshrined alongside the Serengeti, the Yukon and Paris as a place made romantic by virtue of appearing in books. Which is to say, I am the innocent victim of literature.” I have read Hemingway’s stories of Nick Adams and Robert Traver fishing the UP, so I understood what Gierach wrote. I have also enjoyed very many books by John Gierach.
I was not a big reader growing up. That changed when I went to college. Since then, no matter how busy with assigned reading, whether in school or my job, I have always made time for pleasure reading. This reading is typically nonfiction, typically biographies, or history, or outdoor related.
When I say outdoor related, I mean books about hunting, fishing, bird dogs, hiking, and the like. Gene Hill was an early favorite, as was Robert Traver. Both men wrote about a time gone by, when hunting and fishing opportunities lay just down the road and a farmland was open to courteous hunters. Hill’s writing focused on shotgunning and bird dogs. Traver’s writing was all about fly fishing in the black fly infested beaver ponds of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
These authors and many more wrote in a way that filled your head with the smell of a cool autumn morning, where you could hear the leaves underfoot and the tinkle of the dog’s bell as he worked the covert just over the next rise. Hill wrote of hunting friends long gone, of both people and his beloved dogs. He wrote of the promise of new puppies and of the sadness of the dog too old to hunt. My dad remarked that when he read Gene Hill he always wanted to go out and get a puppy. It was Hill who wrote, “Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot little puppies.”
My dirty secret is that many of the books I have enjoyed entered my life as Audible audio books. I tried reading on my commute, but that was deemed unsafe. A viable workaround was listening to audio books. Fortunately, Audible had a selection, though limited, of books about upland bird hunting, sporting dogs, and fly fishing. Because selection was limited, my attention was focused on several authors with whom I was unfamiliar. It was through Audible that I was introduced to John Gierach. I have listened to all his available audio books and have actually purchased several real, honest-to-goodness paper books! Another great find was William G. Tapply.
Tapply made his living as a mystery writer. That said, he wrote several wonderful books about upland hunting and fishing. What is unique about Tapply’s stories is that his father, “Tap” Tapply, was an outdoor magazine editor. Bill Tapply grew up hunting and fishing with the likes of Burton L. Spiller (grouse hunting’s poet laureate), Lee Wulff, and Frank Woolner. Reading about Burton Spiller led me to read Spiller’s classic tales of upland hunting, including Grouse Feathers and Drummer in the Woods, which, eventually, led to me naming my current dog (a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon) after the book – registration name “Sportingafields Drummer in the Woods,” kennel name, simply, “Drummer.”
Rather than continue to drone on, here is my current outdoor writer reading list, in no particular order, with honorable mentions going to several outdoorish authors at the end. (All links are to Amazon.com.)
- Gene Hill
- A Hunter’s Fireside Book: Tales of Dogs, Ducks, Birds, & Guns
- Hill Country: Stories About Hunting and Fishing and Dogs and Guns and Such
- Mostly Tailfeathers: Stories About Guns and Dogs and Birds and Other Odds and Ends
- A Listening Walk…and Other Stories
- Tears & Laughter: A Couple of Dozen Dog Stories
- Passing a Good Time with Guns, Dogs, Fly Rods, and Other Joys
- Robert Traver (John Voelker)
- William G. Tapply
- Burton L. Spiller
- John Gierach
Honorable mention goes to…
- Spiked Boots, by Robert Pike
- Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, by Gary Paulsen
- The Cruelest Miles, by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury
- Anything by Jack London