At some point in the career of many a celebrity (probably too many a celebrity) comes the dubious decision of writing a memoir, a book people will read presumably on the basis that it's written by a famous person. Of course, for most of those famous people, it actually isn't -- writing (not to massage our own boner) is harder than it looks, and for the most part, professionals are called in for the assist on memoirs from Sarah Palin's to Tila Tequila's. In I've Never Met an Idiot on the River, Henry Winkler's memoir about fly fishing in Montana, the Fonz appears to have gone it alone -- and it shows.
Interestingly, this would not be the first book Winkler has authored; Since 2003, he's been writing a series of children's books about the misadventures of a dyslexic kid named Hank Zizper, based on Winkler, who is himself dyslexic. Those books, however, are all co-authored by Lin Oliver, who gets a writing credit -- and though celebrities don't always credit their ghost writers (interestingly, Tequila did, Palin didn't), it would seem that if Winkler has before, he would again.
At any rate, as an author, Winkler is unlikely to blow any socks off. His writing is somewhat stiff and unpracticed, his ideas tend to be scattershot and he has the tendency to recast an observation several times in slightly modified ways; though the book is clearly intended, at least to some degree, as a reflection on the human condition, Winkler's insights are mostly pretty generic. After a short interlude in italics that was "recorded in August 2010 at Firehole Ranch, Montana" (does that mean he said it into a little pocket recorder or something? It's not clear) and a few lines that seem like they might be a poem, here's how he starts chapter two:
I am most at peace on a river in Montana. I like the experience to a washing machine for my brain. Being there is transforming. While under the Big Sky, I am only concerned with fishing and catching. If you allow your mind ot wander anywhere else, you will neither catch nor land your trout.
In Montana I am so focused on fishing that my mind is cleared of everything else.
The chapter is pretty much devoted (like the book) to the zen of fishing -- as is obligatory, Winkler throws out a nod to A River Runs through It -- while WInkler also includes smaller digressions into the lore of lures, living in big cities and how he failed to follow his gut when he took the job of directing Turner & Hooch (he got fired). That actually seems to be the moral, here: to follow your gut.
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Though his words are his own, he does benefit, in a way, from the help of one outside contributor: His wife, who writes the introduction. Not because she improves his writing, but because -- like Winkler's Nature photography, which occupies about a third of the page count -- it lends the book a more personal dimension, and one that, ultimately, makes it kind of worthwhile.
More than anything else, the value of I've Never Met an Idiot on the River is its look into the genuinely likable-seeming personality behind one of television's most beloved characters, a friendly guy, a family guy, easygoing, amiable and refreshingly unpretentious. In spite of my own elitism, I more than once found myself smiling -- not at a joke or anything, but just because the guy seems so darn nice.
It's less a memoir than a scrapbook, a charmingly laid-back tribute to a place that's obviously meant a lot to its author, even if the ways he expresses it are less than profound.