New Outdoor Books

Four recent books from southern authors can be used to illustrate changing market demands for hunting and fishing stories. This market is decreasing as pre-baby boomers and boomers are dying off, or becoming so sight-impaired they can no longer read, and the younger generations are becoming increasingly reluctant to read.
The vision of Grandpa with his pipe and Bourbon pulled up in a chair in front of the fire reading a thick book while his fateful old hunting dog is lying beside him is increasingly stuff of memory. More likely it is an entire family in front of a TV set watching something while simultaneously checking their smartphones.
Nonetheless, outdoor writers are still producing books. Four books I recently received from the South Carolina Outdoor Press Association are examples of what is market-enhancing and market depressing in modern outdoor books. When called upon to judge such books my most significant factor is originality of content. Does this book present original material that is useful to the reader? Secondly, is it a compelling read? Thirdly, is the material well presented?
Two of the four books are published by university presses, and the other two by small presses. Three of the titles are in softcover while the fourth is a larger format hardcover with a colorful African hunting scene printed on its dust jacket. The presentation of the materials on the page and in books has changed since the Victorian Era when some writers could make a living writing about their adventures in darkest Africa. Sentences were long, chapters were long, books were long, and illustrations were most often black-and-white lithographs. Now the demand is for short, easy-to-follow, sentences accompanied as many color photographs as can be reasonably managed to on the page. Modern readers typically want short, easy-to-read, heavily illustrated content that speaks directly to the subject that interests them. Oh, and the book needs to be as inexpensive as possible.
In matters of presentation, Lords Of The Veldt & Vlei by Jim Casada, an editor for The Sporting Classics magazine would be a first choice because of its colorful jacket, larger format, and large number of interior illustrations in a hardcover book. Modern outdoor writers compete not only with their peers for placement in increasingly fewer outlets, but also against every writer who ever took a hunting or fishing trip. I have hunting Africa twice, but my adventures cannot compare to those in the 1800s who wrote eloquently about their months-long trips where no white man had ever been and shot hundreds of pieces of game with their muzzleloading guns. Modernizing their language a bit and making the structure of their accounts look more “normal” to modern readers is something Casada does very well. If this book was only a reprints of these old accounts, I would enjoy it as a good read, but not rank it as high as the less well-presented paperbacks.
However, the focus of Lords Of The Veldt & Vlei is not on reprinting the stories, but is on telling about those remarkable people who pinned them followed by a relatively brief sample of one of their adventures where they hunted elephants, Cape Buffalo, lions, leopards, and reported killing animals, like gorillas, who were at that time unknown to Europeans. Having hunted Cape Buffalo in some of the same places with muzzleloading guns, I could appreciate their experiences. I did not like the wholesale slaughter that sometimes occurred, nor would I ever want to do such a thing, but the danger and excitement of their hunts was inescapable. This book starts with the earliest writers in the 1840s and ends in the early 1900s when hunters like Theodore Roosevelt went to the dark continent with his son Kermit. Some of the animals he shot may be seen today in the Smithsonian Institution.
Another of the books, also by Casada, is the softcover Celebrating Southern Appalachian Food, that is co-authored by Tipper Pressley where the two writers pull together family recipes and augment them with commentary and a glossary of cooking terms such as, “blinked – Milk that is spoiled. ‘You need to check on that milk to be sure it isn’t blinked.” Many of the recipes were very close to those that I also cook, but others were new to me or had interesting twists such as when people had run out of one ingredient and used another. I found hours-long warming of fried chicken to yield a crispy outside, but soft interior, particularly interesting. This book contains black-and-white photos of products and 16-pages of color photography.
Many writers have chosen to consolidate their works that were originally published in a variety of publications by collecting them into books. This is the case for John Mize and his book The Jon Boat Years where he has the objective of passing his passion for fly-fishing and the outdoors to his and other’s grandsons and granddaughters and their children for generations to come such as when he describes passing an old red chamois shirt full of history and love to his grandson.
All of the 40-odd stories were reduced to easily read page lengths, but I feel that the University of South Carolina Press did Mize a disservice by publishing the softcover is such a small type size. Thankfully, there is also an e-book version where the fonts can be enlarged and the book made more accessible for older readers and others who wish to read their books on screens.
Living by example is the approach taken by Whit Gibbons in Salleyland: Wildlife Adventures in Swamps, Sandhills, and Forests. This retired University of Georgia herpetologist (snakes, lizards, reptiles, and amphibians) decided to buy some relatively inexpensive land in the Fall Line area of South Carolina and do an inventory of every animal, insect, plant, and fungi that inhabited his 90-odd acres of ground and recover whatever could be learned about its original native inhabitants. Ultimately he built a cabin, made bridges, and built walkways through some swampy areas to access all portions of his property to investigate the different faunal niches which were developed under varied elevations, water conditions, and soils. To do this he enlisted the aid of his children and grandchildren as well as former students and university collogues to complete his inventory which he has documented in his book.
Even if you don’t also live along the Fall Line 100 miles away as I do, you can use the same techniques to discover the diversity of live on your own wildlands property or pick a piece of public land to investigate. In his book he lists the common and scientific names of some 1,600 species that he has identified on his property. The book has a scattering of color photographs showing his junior assistants with their snakes and other finds. Even if you only considered birds, amphibians, or mushrooms; such investigations puts another slant on “hunting,” where the joy may be finding and preserving habitat for a species that you never knew existed on your land.
All of these titles are available as books and e-books from and other booksellers worldwide.

Author's Bio: 

Wm. Hovey Smith is the author of more than 20 books of which many cover outdoor subjects. He also has produced more than 1000 videos covering outdoor and other topics. More recently he has been concentrating on business books and novels with his most recent being "Real Wealth: How to Obtain and Keep It" and the novel The Goldfarb Chronicles Moving With Baby, The Solitario and Texas Justice.