Revamped L.L. Bean book worth a look

Posted Jan. 20, 2012, at 5:01 p.m.
As part of its 100th anniversary celebration L.L. Bean has updated an old classic, &quotHunting, Fishing and Camping," which was originally written by the company's founder in 1942.
Courtesy of Down East Books
As part of its 100th anniversary celebration L.L. Bean has updated an old classic, "Hunting, Fishing and Camping," which was originally written by the company's founder in 1942.
The cover of the Spring 1939 L.L. Bean catalog is one of many vintage company images included in the 100th anniversary edition of &quotHunting, Fishing and Camping."
Courtesy of Down East Books
The cover of the Spring 1939 L.L. Bean catalog is one of many vintage company images included in the 100th anniversary edition of "Hunting, Fishing and Camping."

HUNTING, FISHING AND CAMPING by Leon Leonwood Bean, Feb. 1, 2012, Down East Books, 112 pages, hardcover $19.95.

Back in 1942, as Leon Leonwood Bean’s outdoor retailing company reached its 30th birthday, the L.L. Bean founder penned a handbook that served generations of folks who enjoyed spending time in the woods.

Called “Hunting, Fishing and Camping,” the book was a guide with a simple premise.

“The object of this book is not to bore my readers with personal yarns and experiences, but to give definite information in the fewest words possible on how to Hunt, Fish and Camp,” Bean wrote in the book’s introduction.

Bean admitted that he was only sharing what he called “major information.” Why? “Minor details are easily learned with practice,” he wrote. “The instructions [in this book] are so condensed that the reading time of the whole book is only 85 minutes.”

This year, as L.L. Bean celebrates its 100th anniversary, it has brushed off the old guidebook, added new content in the form of photos, artwork and writing by Bean’s great-grandson, Bill Gorman, and reissued a hardcover version of “Hunting, Fishing and Camping.”

Still condensed — the book is just 112 pages long — readers won’t likely finish it in the prescribed 85 minutes.

The reason: As with a leisurely hike through the woods, this book is best enjoyed slowly. Read a piece. Look at the vintage L.L. Bean catalog covers. Study the photos of Bean at hunting camps and fishing lodges. Let your mind wander. Remember similar trips you’ve enjoyed.

As Gorman points out in his opening note, much has changed in the 70 years since his great-grandfather penned his first guidebook.

“[The book] has lost some of its practical use as a hands-on manual in this twenty-first century age of Gore-Tex rainwear and graphite fly rods (although a surprising amount of its advice still holds up today),” Gorman wrote. “But as a nostalgic look at a bygone era in the Maine woods, this book knows no equal.”

Gorman is biased, of course. He helped write the revamped edition.

He’s also right.

“Hunting, Fishing and Camping” provides countless simple morsels for readers to feast upon.

Such as this directive from Bean, who is telling readers what to pack (and wear) on a hunting trip: “Pants: One pair medium weight all wool with knit or zipper bottom. Also wear from home your heaviest business suit.”

Among his other suggestions: Colored toilet paper (so that it doesn’t look like a deer’s tail, presumably), and “one pair slippers. Coming from a long hunt change to slippers and light stockings. This is important to keep feet in best condition.”

Whether you want to know how to hunt a ruffed grouse or track a deer, catch a trout or make a mattress out of boughs, Bean had you covered.

Of particular interest to deer hunters: A four-page appendix featuring maps of Maine and the number of deer killed in each town during a particular year. The first map describes the 1941 deer season, when 19,881 deer were shot. The second is from 2010, when 20,063 were tagged. Comparing the totals from various towns starkly illuminates the differences that exist today.

Readers that remember the old L.L. Bean book are sure to enjoy the new one. And those who never knew such a book had been published will likely be delighted to take a trip down memory lane with an iconic Mainer.

It also provides a snapshot into the mind of the man who created what is now a global retailing giant.

“To my mind, hunting and fishing is the big lure that takes us into the great open spaces and teaches us to forget the mean and petty things of life,” Bean wrote in his introduction.

And in sharing his knowledge about those topics, he successfully encouraged others to follow the same trails he blazed.

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