Hog Blog Book Report – Steve Rinella’s “Meat Eater, Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter”
August 21, 2012
Steven Rinella has become something of a celebrity in the world of hunting television, with some crossover attention from the foodie-quadrant. In his initial television outing on The Travel Channel, he hosted The Wild Within, and then went to The Sportsman Channel with, Meat Eater. His focus in both of these programs, as well as in his books and magazine articles has largely been on the feast that’s available just outside our doors, which is a very popular topic these days.
Personally, when I first heard about Rinella’s program on The Sportsman Channel, I shuddered. Images of Bear Grylls and “Survivorman” ran through my head. I hated those shows, especially Grylls’s hyper-bravado and the stupidly unnecessary things he would do for shock effect (hey, I know some of you folks liked those shows and more power to you… I found them ridiculous, and they got worse as each episode strove to out-shock the other). I dreaded another program just like the rest.
But some folks I know spoke highly of Rinella, so I opened my mind and watched a few episodes. I was pleasantly surprised. His personality on screen doesn’t seem over-inflated, and his hunts are pretty real. He’s a meat hunter (and fisherman), and that’s the focus of each episode. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fan, and I certainly haven’t watched every episode, but I found very little to quibble with on his program. If it comes on while I’m watching The Sportsman Channel, I don’t reach for the remote.
OK… three paragraphs in, and I’m yet to get to the point.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Rinella’s publicity folks. He’d just released his third book, titled Meat Eater, Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter, and they wondered if I’d like to give it a read and a review. It sounded like a good opportunity to get a closer look at this guy through his writing, and I’m always up for something new to read. So last week, I went to my mailbox and found the hardback waiting for me.
I wasn’t sure when I’d find time to read, with all the work I needed to do around my place, but a back injury settled me down right quick. Unable to do so much as push a broom for a few days, I kicked back in my recliner and cracked it open.
As is my usual habit, I didn’t read the background materials that the publicist sent along with the book so I really wasn’t sure what it would even be about. I figured with the same title as his program, it would be about hunting for meat. Maybe there would be some hunting stories or some cooking tips. But I didn’t really expect an autobiography (as well as some hunting stories and cooking tips).
That’s what it is, though. The book is essentially the story of Rinella’s development into the character we see on his television program today… extended backstory for the television program, as it were.
A few years back, there was a recruiting poster, I think for the Navy, that asked, “If your life were a book, would anyone want to read it?”
This poster occurred to me several times as I read through Meat Eater. I mean, honestly, Steve Rinella isn’t that big a celebrity. Outside of a relatively small circle, no one has a clue who he is. If I were browsing the bookshelves and saw this, I probably wouldn’t read past the jacket blurbs. And now that I have read the entire book, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be much the poorer for missing it.
Was the book a complete waste of time? No.
Once I relaxed my preconceptions (and got past those first few pages), I don’t begrudge the time I spent on it. At points, it did take me back to my own childhood and early teen years in the North Carolina woods… geographically distinct from his Michigan environment, but I think the way we saw it was pretty much the same. It’s an honest portrayal, warts and all, of his development as an outdoorsman, and at the end I came away with an appreciation of who Steve Rinella is and where he came from. I think this will likely color my perspective on his television program from now on, in a positive way. At no point did I just want to close the book and go find something else to read.
At the same time, though, I guess I didn’t see anything particularly novel here. If I tried, I could probably name a dozen friends who came up in the outdoors, hunting, fishing, and trapping pretty much just like he did. Most people I know who started young in the outdoors went through similar stages of moral and ethical development as they formed their own, unique relationship to the outdoors. Heck, my own story isn’t all that different… except that where he went on to turn his passion for the outdoors into a career, mine remains an expensive hobby. (And yeah, I get that this is a big difference.)
It was not unlike trying a new restaurant and finding nothing particularly new or memorable in the experience. It did not excel, nor did it suck… at least to my tastes. In a week, I doubt that I’ll remember any specific passage from Meat Eater. In a year, I doubt I’ll even remember reading it.
Would I recommend Meat Eater? If a copy falls into your hands, yes, check it out. It’s not a bad read. But would I recommend you go out to buy it? I don’t know.
As a guide for new hunters, there’s not much in the way of instruction or even solid guidance (in fact, a good part of the book reminisces about breaking wildlife laws.. and in some cases seems to attempt to justify it). I don’t think that a new hunter would find much value here… especially a new hunter who is coming to the sport late in life. Maybe a youngster, a young teen who is already crazy about the outdoors would enjoy this. But even then, I can think of better books.
As an adventure story, it lacks… well… it lacks adventure. Rinella certainly has had some cool hunting experiences, but he’s definitely no Robert Ruark. Maybe it’s his laid back writing style, but even his most harrowing experiences didn’t seem particularly exciting. A couple of them just seemed like stupid ideas… which could have made for great humor, except Rinella doesn’t seem to capitalize on those opportunities very well.
For the foodie there are far better books out there, both instructional and anecdotal, that would offer far more value. The “Tasting Tips” at the end of each chapter are the closest thing to actual food writing, and these are mostly general.
When it comes down to it, the only person I would feel like recommending this book to is to the hardcore, Steve Rinella fan. I do think you can really get a good feel for who he is, and where he comes from in this book. So to a fan, this could be really great information. But honestly, if you’re not a really big fan, I don’t think you’re going to care all that much.
Note: This is my opinion, and I have some pretty specific tastes when it comes to books. I know that several other bloggers are reading and reviewing this book right now. It may be worthwhile to take a look at some of the other reviews in addition to mine.