Book Review: The Zen of Home Water

A week or so ago I received a book in the mail—The Zen of Home Water. It was mailed to me by its author, Jerry Hamza. He sent it unsolicited, which struck me as quite generous on his part. But then, tucked inside, I discovered a note from Jerry, hoping for a review (a published review, I assumed). I have no previous history of writing or publishing reviews of fly fishing books. I’ve also never met Jerry Hamza. So I set his book aside, unsure if I wanted to read it at all. Days later, I reconsidered. I figured that even if Jerry’s interest in sending me his book was purely commercial, it still made for a nice gesture. I opened it up and dove in.

Anytime I encounter the word zen—no matter where it appears and no matter the context—I’m instantaneously transported back to 1974. That’s when Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance appeared, a book of philosophy written by Robert Pirsig. Considered now to be a classic (Google informs me it’s the best selling philosophy book of all time), I read it shortly after publication. More accurately, I read a small part of it. I gave up less than halfway through, failing to grasp Pirsig’s message. I was probably too young at the time (15). Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. Likely both. Perhaps I should take another crack at it now. I’m not any smarter, but at least I’m older. On the other hand, not long ago I decided to tackle another classic, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea. Like many of us, I’d first read Hemingway’s book as an academic requirement—when I was young. This time, I was convinced to read it by Dan Rust, guide colleague and English teacher, after he and I had a long conversation about Hemingway. He raved about The Old Man and The Sea; I honestly couldn’t remember enough about it to have an opinion. He lent me his copy and off I went. Turns out that The Old Man and The Sea is short, shorter than I remembered. Which was fortunate, because it’s awful. Truly, it is. I could barely finish it, the pain was so great. I guess that’s why it’s a classic.    

Now, where were we? Jerry Hamza’s Zen (which at one point actually references Pirsig’s) is subtitled True Tales of Adventure, Travel, and Fly Fishing. Yes, it’s a book of fishing stories. When it comes to fishing stories, I think it’s hard to beat anything written by Nick Lyons. Or anything edited by Nick Lyons, like Fisherman’s Bounty. John Geirach’s collection of stories in Trout Bum and the occasional piece by Tom McGuane are excellent, too. When fly fishing exploded in popularity in the ’80s and ’90s and everyone under the sun started belching up fishing stories, it seemed to me that the entire genre got quickly overworked. It became a bit taxing to parse the good from the mundane. Even today, there’s too much mundane.

The dust jacket for The Zen of Home Water apprises us that Jerry spent many years working for the comedian George Carlin. I started into the book fearing he’d use that experience as material for much of his story telling. He didn’t, thankfully. The book stays focused on fishing, and the ways in which fishing has been interwoven into Jerry’s life since childhood. His personality and philosophy of life shine through in an engaging manner. While Hamza’s skill with the English language doesn’t approach the level of a Nick Lyons or Tom McGuane, his book still proved a pleasant read. And unlike Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I actually think I understood this one. 

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