Picks and Pans Review: Traveling Light

updated 01/16/1984 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/16/1984 01:00AM

by Bill Barich

Just when it begins to seem that the personal essay as an art has been exhausted, a writer like Barich comes along and breathes new life into the form. He writes so beautifully that his subject matter is almost irrelevant. Several of these pieces are about fishing, for steelhead on the West Coast, for weakies off Long Island. But this isn't a book for fishing fanatics. It cries out to be read because it tells so much about the characters Barich meets—funny, mean, eccentric, unforgettable men. He says of the men who sell bait: "There's always an overzealous O'Neill behind the counter—some guy who wants to divest himself of as much tackle as possible without falling into outright criminality." Barich's other main subject is betting on horses, where he observes: "Racetracks seem to reward innocence. If babies were permitted to wager, they'd ultimately win so much money that management everywhere would bar them." The result, he fantasizes: "NO BABIES ALLOWED, says a big sign at Hialeah. At Belmont Park, it reads, BEAT IT, BABIES." Barich is the kind of writer who enhances nature, focusing on its richness of color and meaning by means of his genial, witty and thoughtful writing. (Viking, $14.95)

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