The Patch, by John McPhee
One of the things that happens when a writer has a lot of material is that one tends to see feasts of scraps made of those materials. This book is an example of that. This material is certainly not bad–if you are familiar with books by the author, you know there is a lot to like and appreciate. That said, this book is a feast of scraps that have not been published in any book before, and so there is a great deal that is fragmentary and incomplete about this book, and those looking for satisfying narrative will probably be disappointed. Indeed, this book as a whole is a strange chimera of a book, and that fragmented nature makes this book a test of whether one wants to read very small bits of thoughtful McPhee essays that have been collected in a basket. As for me, I am generally a fan of reading the author’s works as a whole, but even I found this book to be less enjoyable than most of his works. Since this work is likely the sort of thing that an editor or publisher wanted in order to pad out a commercial deal rather than being driven by the author himself, I’m not going to hold McPhee himself responsible for this.
As I noted before, this book is a bit of a chimera. The first 40% of the book or so is a collection of generally entertaining sports essays. The first, the title story, is a fishing story that discusses the author’s father’s death. After that, the author writes an amusing football story related to his own education and his wondering what he would talk to a New England Patriots coach about. A story about the collection of golf balls and an exploration of their stories then follows, which is one of the highlights of the whole book, and then there is another golf story after that dealing with the British Open and its context. The last two stories in this section are pretty amusing as well, one of them dealing with the Denver men’s lacrosse coach who had moved on from Princeton, and the author’s thus far unsuccessful efforts at seeing a wild bear from his New Jersey home. The rest of the book is made up of mostly small bits of a large variety of essays and articles, which have been shorn of about 3/4 of their content and are left to what the author considers the highlights, which serves as a bit of a covert memoir and a mostly interesting collection of miscellany.
This book would have been better for me if the author would have had it be all one thing or all the other. A book of only miscellaneous material would have been about as good as this one, as that was definitely the weaker part of the book for me, even if it did provide at least scraps of essays and articles the author had written that had not yet been collected in book form. A book of sports or sporting related essays would have been very worthwhile and more enjoyable than this book. To be sure, I don’t know if I would have wanted to read 200 pages about the author’s thoughts on golf, a sport I am not very expert in, but I am sure there are enough sporting articles and essays the author is written that there could have been an entire book on that subject, and that would have been a more enjoyable book to read than this one. Still, as is often the case, one cannot review the books one would have wished to read, but rather the books that are actually made.