Wednesday, July 10, 2019


A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Casting into the Light: Tales of a Fishing Life is the memoir of teacher, taxidermist and surfcaster Janet Messineo's 40 years of fishing, adding a distinct new voice to the choir of sportswriters. As a girl, she was captivated by the lure of the striped bass, the most prized migratory fish in the Northeast due to the degree of difficulty in catching the crafty ocean night-feeders. Now a respected surfcaster, Messineo spent years teaching herself the sport and breaking into the inner circle of colorful Martha's Vineyard locals.

A fascinating story of fish and their predilections, as well as the high art of the hunt (and sometimes hijinks and tricks of the trade), Messineo's story is intimately personal. She shares her rough beginnings, fishing for food and money while relationships burned and burned out. In no small part due to the restorative influence of nature, she continues to conquer her demons.

Messineo never loses sight of the fact that perseverance and dedication to her craft remain at the whim of the fish, the sea and her tools. The dream of landing the big one, whether in the famed Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby or alone on a dark beach, keeps her casting against the odds, her line compulsively in the water. Messineo's voice is passionate and she's an enthralling storyteller concerned about the environment and continuing the traditions of the individual fisherman. Humor, zealousness and adoration more than smooth some minor disjointed thoughts and repetitions, making this memoir a prize catch.

STREET SENSE: As a kid, I fished with my dad (mostly catch-and-release, he was a big softy). As an adult, I'm a vegetarian. But I like reading stories of those who have differing views to get their insight. The thought of someone hooking an ancient fish and not setting it free bothers me, I'm not going to pretend it doesn't. Yet I know it happens and will continue to happen. I appreciate reading about people who feel the "gravity" of their sport in their bones and do it for sustenance while recognizing the impact on the environment (bad and not bad). I had respect for Janet Messineo, who fishes while also not hesitating to berate anyone she sees keeping a fish against the rules or without proper respect for the life taken. See quote below.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: I deeply feel the ultimate paradox of wanting so badly to hook and land the biggest fish in history, but then I see myself standing over a magnificent creature and feeling compassion for all the years it evaded other fishermen, and I make the decision to set it free.

COVER NERD SAYS: Mixed feelings about this one, alternating between the artful beauty and simplicity of it and the nagging feeling that it's a bit too casual. I like the fact that the image mostly speaks for itself, but perhaps a slightly larger or less "straight and narrow" font would have given it a bit more oomph. Tough for me so say as I'm usually a "less is more" fan, but in this case just a hint more might be called for.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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