Streams of ConsciousnessHip-Deep Dispatches from the River of Life
Author: Jeff Hull
Reviewed by Bob Petti
I will admit right now that I had never heard of Jeff Hull prior to reading his new book "Streams of Consciousness". Obviously, I have been living with my head in the sand, or - more likely - way too close to a laptop screen, because his resume is pretty impressive, with writing credits for some big time magazines. Big time as in "known outside the fly fishing world". You know - National Geographic, Audubon. Stuff like that.
Sometimes it's hard to pick up a book cold. I've always been an avid reader, but I tend to gravitate toward comfort zones where I know ahead of time that I will come away satisfied. That is why I buy so many old and out-of-print books, and also why I tend to frequent the same authors. I had zero expectations when I picked up "Streams of Consciousness" for the first time. I didn't know if it was supposed to be funny or serious - educational or what. I also had know idea if I would enjoy the reading - if you know what I mean. There is a style to writing that sometimes is very pleasing and sometimes is rather distasteful. Last year, needing something to read on a flight to Texas, I wasted $20 on a book that will go nameless. It was supposed to be funny - it even had a funny title - but I tossed it aside after two chapters. It was amazed that it was as bad as it was - and could not believe any editor would think it was worth publishing.
I was hoping Jeff's book was not going to be a repeat of that experience.
Whoa - not even close.
It would be easy for me to review his book by tossing about all the old clichés "written from the heart", "he bares his soul", blah blah blah. But you know - sometimes those tired old clichés are quite appropriate. Yes - Jeff does bare his soul in this book - often in ways I found a bit shocking. Not shocking in that I found what he wrote disturbing, but shocking in that I could never consider writing about episodes in my life as he has. There are some intensely personal bits in this book, and sometimes after reading awhile I set it down on my lap, stared off out a window, and just sort of took a break.
Yeah, not your normal fly fishing book, so it resists conventional reviews where you buzz through the table of contents and give a quickie soundbite about each section. It fits in with a popular genre of angling literature in that each section is an "essay" separate and distinct from the others, although there are common people and places in many of the essays. It is certainly autobiographical in nature, with Jeff taking us along on some of his fishing adventures, but it differs from many other books in that I never got the sense that the fly fishing was the central theme. It's not a "Jeff and friends go fishing" book. Really - this is more about Jeff - his life - his experiences (good and bad) - some of his friends - with fly fishing serving as a common thread throughout.
It is with due caution that I compare Jeff's writing in "Streams of Consciousness" with the classic "A River Runs Through It". Both are written not so much about fly fishing but about life experiences and how they affect ourselves and the people around us. It just so happens that the central characters of each were fly fishers. I don't want to make Jeff uncomfortable by comparing him to the great Norman Maclean, but I can't help it. I finished both books with that same feeling: "Wow".
Now that I know Jeff a little better than I did before, I wish I could shake his hand and tell him what a terrific job he did with "Streams of Consciousness". It is a thought provoking, yet terrifically enjoyable book. I recommend it highly.