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5.0 out of 5 starsJohn McPhee Strikes Again
Reviewed in the United States on December 19, 2018
I keep fearing that the author my release his last book. However he fails to disappoint. Another classic covering virtually every topic is melded into a patch work of short offerings to The New Yorker length articles. Having been watched by Albert Einstein while playing soccer to discussing the NBA with Bill Bradley, the author has experienced an endless range of persons, personalities, and topics for his musings. If you are true John McPhee fan (I have yet to read 2 of his books) then the most accurate review is to say that the author "strikes again" and "fails to disappoint." Enjoy the exploration into another of John McPhee's offerings. PS: I will never look at a female Cardinal like I use to.
5.0 out of 5 starsWhy not a gallery of isolated writing?
Reviewed in the United States on March 17, 2019
I long ago promised that I would read anything John McPhee wrote, if he would just keep writing. For my trouble, I learned more about that damn fish than I ever wanted to know, but I read it all. I didn't think I would care for the second half of this book, which consists of many brief, unconnected bits of narrative and description. But I did. Very much. It raised this question: why in prospect did it seem in any way unacceptable for a nonfiction writer to present several isolated pieces as a tour de force when a photographer / sculptor / painter might do the same (as in a gallery or a portfolio) without prompting a single raised eyebrow? In retrospect, I think, "Why not?" This works. And it's really neat.
Unlike most of John McPhee's books, "The Patch" is an unusually motley miscellany. Its first part, "The Sporting Scene," comprises essays on chain pickerel fishing, "Phi Beta Football," "The Orange Trapper" (a device to snag golf balls in watercourses), "Linksland and Bottle" (on golf course design), "Pioneer" (the profile of a lacrosse coach), and "Direct Eye Contact" (encounters with New Jersey's bears). Part II, "An Album Quilt," is a compilation of its author's favorite vignettes (many, apparently, for "The New Yorker"'s "Talk of the Town") on everything from Cary Grant, Joan Baez, a nineteenth-century diary, golf games of Washington politicos, Thomas Wolfe, chocolate, synthetic foods, more bears (Russian, this time), Mensa, locking one's self outside of one's own car, Richard Burton, "Time" magazine covers that were never published, Sophia Loren, altimeters, and other subjects you'd never see coming.
Owing to its design, this book never escorts you, as do McPhee's best, into the deep pockets of detail that give life and color to a single subject. Its titular essay is its finest: ostensibly about fishing for pickerel, it fast makes a wondrous left turn into a Baltimore hospital where the author's father, a doctor himself, lay dying, before returning to the Patch.
How does a writer do this? Here is McPhee's own testimony (p. 137): "A professional writer, by definition, is a person clothed in self-denial who each and almost every day will plead with eloquent lamentation that he has a brutal burden on his mind and soul, will summon deep reserves of 'discipline' as seriatim antidotes to any domestic chore, and, drawing the long sad face of the pale poet, will rise above his dread of his dreaded working chamber, excuse himself from the idea crowd, go into his writing sanctum, shut the door, shoot the bolt, and in lonely sacrifice turn on the Mets game."
5.0 out of 5 starsThis book is a gem of McPhee writing.
Reviewed in the United States on June 23, 2019
Even I, a non golfer, loved the stories about St. Andrews and the other courses. But the way McPhee brings the assorted characters he has known to life is amazing. I’ve read many of his books, he’s a wonderful writer. I don’t usually like the short story/essay format, but each of these is a gem. The first story, about the patch and his dad, brought me to tears.
Reviewed in the United States on February 19, 2019
I think I've read 20 or more books by John McPhee. His prose always has a witty and rhythmic style I try to emulate when I write. It's not easy to do.
The Patch is a collection of short essays and pieces. Some have not outlived their time, like one written (maybe in the eighties?) on using computers to type. Others, like what it means to be in Alaska, seem timeless. Long-time readers will find a lot to like. Those wanting to read their first John McPhee book are probably looking more for one like 'In Suspect Terrain' or 'Coming Into the Country.'