When Robert Ruark’s novel, Poor No More, was published in New York in 1959, the proud author walked down the street holding the book up to his chest, reversed so passers-by could see his photograph on the back. He studied every passing face to see if they recognized him.
Considering the block-buster success that had accompanied Something of Value a few years before — Book-of-the-Month, mass paperback, movie contract — such behaviour indicates just how deep and lasting a writer’s insecurity can be.
Writing a book is about as close to child birth as a man can get. The physical pain may not be there, but the mental anguish certainly is. And oddly enough, the more books you write, the worse it gets — or at least, it does for me.
My newest, Great Hunting Rifles — Victorian to the Present, has just been published by Skyhorse in New York. I have special dispensation from the editor of Safari Times to tell you that, because I was worried that writing about my own book would be journalistically questionable at best. I’m reluctant to say that it’s good, and that you should all buy it, yet I honestly do think it’s pretty good, and if you all bought it, it would make me (and Skyhorse Publishing) very happy.
There is not much I can say about the content beyond what the title tells you. It’s a book about what I consider to be the great hunting rifles of the past 150 years, based on some specific rifles that I have owned and shot. For example, I don’t say that the Winchester Model 70 is a great hunting rifle, or the Savage 99, because not all of them were. Some specific models, however, were indeed great rifles for hunting. And that’s the whole point, really: Exactly what does make a great big-game rifle?
Jim Carmichel, the long-time shooting editor of Outdoor Life, contributed the foreword, and no one knows more about hunting rifles than Jim does. He had some nice things to say, for which I’m grateful, as did that other depraved rifle nut, Dave Petzal of Field & Stream. Dave compared it (favorably) with Carmichel’s Book of the Rifle from 1985, and said “If you don’t read it, you can consider yourself an ignorant wretch.” Can’t add much to that.
Speaking of Ruark, early in 2020 Skyhorse will also be reprinting, in paperback, A View from a Tall Hill — Robert Ruark in Africa. I wrote that book some 20 years ago now. It was published in 2000, reprinted in 2003, and I’ve been getting calls about it ever since the last copy disappeared off the shelves. As a die-hard Ruark admirer since childhood (I first read The Honey Badger in 1966) I firmly believe that we need his influence in both big-game hunting and game conservation today more than ever.
Robert Ruark was an unabashed, unapologetic trophy hunter in the purest and most ethical sense and delivered the greatest line on it that I have ever seen. Quote: “Nothing is any good unless you work for it, and if the work is hard enough, you don’t have to possess the trophy to own it.”
In an age where hunting ethics are dismissed as old-fashioned, and the goal is to get the biggest animal possible, by whatever means available, then get the hell home and post your photos on FaceBook along with a pack of lies about how you did it, Ruark’s sincere and — dare I say? — noble sentiment is more valuable than ever.
Late in life, Ruark was asked if he enjoyed writing. His reply: “I like to read what I’ve written.” This was a ‘secret’ vice he shared with Ernest Hemingway and, I confess, with me as well. In the course of adding some new material for the reprint of View, I re-read the book, after not looking at it for a dozen years. I found my enthusiasm for Africa, for hunting and for what Ruark called “the hard, true life” renewed beyond any expectation.
By the way, during Ruark’s stroll down that Manhattan street holding the book, not a single person recognized him. Yet here we are, more than 60 years later, reading him, writing about him, and heeding his words. That’s hard to beat.--Terry Wieland