The Manly Diaries


Dec 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Eric Swanson

Eric Swanson

Off to the Side
A Memoir

by Jim Harrison
(Atlantic Monthly Press, $25)

Kingdom of Fear
Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

by Hunter S. Thompson
(Simon & Schuster, $25)

JIM HARRISON and Hunter S. Thompson occupy the same niche that Hemingway once did: that of the macho literary celebrity. Both men pal around their remote western ranches with movie stars and live comfortably off the proceeds of lucrative film deals and script writing, yet remain quintessential outsiders. Add to that a weakness for life's temptations—Harrison loves wine, food, and strippers, while Thompson goes in for drugs and guns—and they've got plenty of fodder for their memoirs. Of the two, Harrison's Off to the Side is the more traditional, and the result is a charming if somewhat rambling read. He presents his life in not-quite-chronological order, evoking the windfall that came when Hollywood optioned his Montana novella Legends of the Fall, and the two traumas that he says enabled him to become a writer: the blinding of his left eye at age seven and the car wreck that killed his father and sister when he was 24. In the end, he finds his solace both outdoors—"the natural world will always be there to save me from suffocating in my human problems"—and indoors. "I'm drawn to wine for the same reason that fishing and bird hunting have been lifelong obsessions," he writes. "The pleasure is in the path, the search for something good..."

Arriving in bookstores in late December, Kingdom of Fear opens with a vintage Thompson flashback: Hunter, age nine, has helped knock a mailbox into the path of a school bus, and proceeds to stonewall a pair of FBI agents who want him to squeal on his accomplices. That theme—the defiant loner rebuffing the depredations of authority—threads through this disheveled assemblage of recycled magazine pieces, old letters, and original passages. Thompson recaps his political reporting for Rolling Stone, his "freak power" bid to become sheriff of Aspen's Pitkin County in 1970, and his more recent battles with wealthy neighbors in once-rural Woody Creek, Colorado. There are some classic fear-and-loathing moments, of course. In one, alarmed by a late-night noise, he rushes outside and empties his shotgun into the darkness, only to find he's blown away two of his pet peacocks. Kingdom of Fear is not unlike this nocturnal fusillade: scattershot, and something of a waste. —ROB BUCHANAN

Eye of the Albatross
Visions of Hope and Survival

by Carl Safina
(Henry Holt, $28)

"ALMOST EVERYTHING about albatrosses is superlative and extreme," writes Carl Safina, founder of the National Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program. He's not kidding. The royal albatross, one of 24 species of said seabird, has the longest wingspan in nature—11 feet tip to tip—and when it comes to flying, the bird has no peer: By the time an albatross celebrates its 50th birthday (some have been known to live to 100), it has flown more than 3.7 million miles. "Land," notes Safina, "is little more than a necessary inconvenience for breeding." Having written of the peril facing the world's seas in 1997's Song for the Blue Ocean, Safina takes a more optimistic approach in Eye of the Albatross. The North Pacific's winged vagabond was once overhunted, but its population has rebounded, and its main threat today is long-line fishermen, whose baited hooks are too tempting for the bird to resist. Using a banded albatross named Amelia as his central character, Safina follows her as she mates, hatches offspring, and embarks on thousand-mile feeding forays, from Hawaii's Tern Island to southern Alaska. Never dull, Safina blends travel essay with natural history, taking readers along with him like a cheerful professor introducing his graduate flock to the great fun of fieldwork. —BRUCE BARCOTT

The Lobster Chronicles
Life on a Very Small Island

by Linda Greenlaw
(Hyperion, $23)

AFTER 17 YEARS swordfishing out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Linda Greenlaw (plucky Perfect Storm heroine and author of the excellent fishing memoir The Hungry Ocean) took up lobstering and moved back home to Isle au Haut, seven miles off the coast of Maine. Her goal: break into the lobster business, meet a guy, settle down, have a family. Trouble was, the island's 40 year-round residents weren't the marrying kind. "There are three single men in residence," writes Greenlaw. "Two of them are gay and the third is my cousin." Four years on the rock—a hard-wintering place with no cable TV, no restaurant, and 13 miles of bad road—didn't produce a husband, but it did provide material for a second memoir that's even better than the first. True to its title, The Lobster Chronicles offers an inside glimpse at the New England lobster trade—from "gear wars" to trap mending—but the heart of the book lies in Greenlaw's sharp and affectionate portraits of her fellow islanders: There are the heroes (noble highliner Jack MacDonald, who saved the island from being swallowed up by Acadia National Park) and the zeroes (Rude Rita the Peeping Tom), and most of them rely on the dwindling lobster catch for their livelihood. "Our own little piece of America hangs on by a thread to the fate of the lobster," Greenlaw explains. If that be so, The Lobster Chronicles may be more than a memoir. It may be a snapshot of a dying way of life. —B. B.

(From Our Pages)
A DECADE after reporting Napa: The Story of an American Eden, James Conaway returned to find the once-bucolic valley embroiled in a vitriolic battle over development between dot-com millionaires turned vintners and impassioned environmentalists. First reported for Outside in September 2000, the land wars are chronicled in The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley (Houghton Mifflin, $28).

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