Steven Simpson’s Blog

Please check every Monday for my most recent blog posting.  Most entries will be about nature or other environmental topics, but occasionally I will write about writing, family, travel, or the Driftless Region.

Non-Fiction

I read mostly fiction, but about once a year I shift to non-fiction for a little while. I am in one of those phases now. I just finished a book about college admissions and am half done with two other non-fiction books. One of them is Michael Pollan’s book about psilocybin, and the other is Walter Mosley’s book about writing. When I am in the middle of a non-fiction jag, I wonder why I don’t read more of it. In a month, however, I will come to the realization that non-fiction rarely grabs me the way fiction does, and I will return to my former reading habits.

When I think of books I couldn’t put down, two stand out – and both are fiction. One is Catch-22. The other is The Name of the Rose. I first read Catch-22 forty-five years ago, The Name of the Rose maybe fifteen years later. I still remember the two weekends I didn’t leave my apartment, barely sleeping and eating only slapped-together sandwiches so I could keep reading. I read Catch-22 before my first marriage and The Name of the Rose before my second. It’s hard for me to imagine disappearing into a book like that with a wife or a kid or even a dog in the house.*

Yesterday I scoured my bookshelves, both in the living room and in the basement, looking for a specific book. Of course, it was in neither place, and I eventually found it in the stack of books on the floor next to my bed. The book was David Suzuki’s Sacred Balance, although the title of the book and the purpose for my search are irrelevant to the point I want to make. While looking for the book, I was struck by the number of unread non-fiction books in my possession. When I read popular fiction, one reading is usually enough, so I get those books from the library. With non-fiction books, I tend to write in the margins, so I often get those books from a bookstore or through Alibris. Sometimes I even start a non-fiction book that I checked out from the library, only to stop midway and buy a copy so I can write in it. After I finish Pollan and Mosley (both library books), my next book should be one of the volumes from my own collection. I bought each of those unread books for a reason – the reasons long forgotten – but then didn’t read it. Maybe the time was not right, and now it is.

*After I wrote this blog, I remembered that Bernard Malamud’s The Natural had the same effect on me. An assigned reading for my college freshman English lit class, we had two weeks to read the novel. I finished it in two days.

Might Have Fixed My Canoe

During my recent Boundary Waters trip I discovered a big ding in the bow of my canoe.  It was there before I started the trip, but I really don’t know how it got there. I’d never repaired any watercraft before, but now I had no choice. I drove up to Winona, Minnesota to buy two repair kits at the Wenonah Canoe headquarters (one of the required chemicals was too hazardous or caustic to be put in the mail). I expected the kits to contain only epoxies and resins, but they included rubber gloves, a stirring stick, sandpaper, and just about everything I needed to complete the task. The only tool I needed to get from my toolbox was a screwdriver to pry the lids off cans of repair goop. I spent two days putting skid plates on the ends of the boat and painting resin over the entire underside. Skid plates are strips of material epoxied to the very fronts and backs of the boat to provide additional protection against collisions with rocks. In my case, it was also to seal the hole that was already there. 

My canoe’s hull suffers from twenty-five years of rough use. I gently sanded out the most superficial scratches, but more than half were scars too deep to be taken out completely. Now they are forever immortalized beneath a fresh layer of transparent resin. All that remains of my repair work is to test it out, but I have been slow to put my rehabilitated boat back on the water. This fall the weather in the Midwest has been miserable and the fishing poor. The rivers around home are again near flood stage, which should not be the case in October. As much as I want to see whether my repairs hold, I’m not going out in the cold and rain.