The sea, Vedanta, poetry and wars BOOKS OF THE REGION @

June 14, 1998|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Sun staff

Deepwater fishing is the most hazardous of all principal callings. Fishermen who don't drown can expect an old age of severe arthritis and injury pain. Yet the urge to haul fish aboard a boat, with its prospect of gain, continues down the millennia. In Chesapeake Bay, the word is watermen.

William McCloskey first dropped lines there more than half a century ago; by now, he has managed to experience the life of a fisherman on most of the sea world's grandest banks ` the continental shelves off Newfoundland, Norway and Alaska; Japan and Chile, New Zealand and Indonesia.

His passion is to photograph that life, analyze it and (during intervals back home in Baltimore) write about it ` fiction and nonfiction. McCloskey's latest book, "Their Fathers' Work: Casting Nets With the World's Fishermen" (McGraw-Hill, 383 pages, $25.95) is perhaps his summing up. In its range, authority and - lookout! - vividness, this is Bill McCloskey's best book yet.

Lots of people fish the deeps, some via technology's factory ships, others from the chairs of their ocean-going Cadillacs; McCloskey's sympathies are clear from his book title. He signs on for brute labor in the tradition of these fathers, these sons.

Let it also be clear: He is aware of overfishing, water pollution, owner cheating and other contemporary evils, but that doesn't make McCloskey an emissary from Greenpeace. (Though his report from a long-after visit to the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill should, in different ways, anger government, corporation and, particularly, reader-bystander.)

McCloskey, years ago a Sun reporter, follows ever-changing statistics, official reports, international maritime agreements. But he is even better at invoking language (broach, gurry, brailers, outporters - plus the same unprintables favored by farmers and miners) and reliving crises. In 1981, off the Oregon coast, two waves broadsided the 48-foot trawler Odyssey and it capsized. Two of its crew of three managed to reach the air bubble left under the bobbing hull. In 14-foot seas, could the Coast Guard save them? The lunar-voyage explosion aboard Apollo VIII brought on a scene no more tense, no more frightening than the tale this book tells.

Religion with no denominational name, religion that centers on God and the self, that calls for love and calm in the search for fulfillment of purpose in your own life - this must have roots in ancient India. Indeed, Gita and Upanishads are the source for some of the quotations in Bibhuti Mazumder's new book, "In Search of a Meaningful Life" (Noble House, 114 pages, $15.95). Yet he also quotes the biblical Jeremiah and John.

Mazumder, a retired chemistry professor, has also headed the Vedanta Society of Maryland. Spirituality abides, in his patient message, despite the baseness of today's objectives, group and individual. "Transform your lower nature."

If Joseph Gallagher's tombstone turns out to bear only name and dates, much of Baltimore will be let down. Not that, in his 70s, the well-known clergyman, polymath and scholar-teacher-poet stands on any brink. Perish the thought of perishing. But surely that nimble mind will have a farewell ready; a selection of farewells, used and unused.

Jollity aside, Gallagher's latest book, "Statements at the Scene: Poems of a Half-Century" (The Bench Press, 100 - may he live as many years - pages, $10, softbound) ends in prose valedictories. The last chapter is three wrenching In Memoriams, for his mother, brother Frank and brother Tommy.

For the rest, Father Joe has assembled a multitude of short takes. Word-play is everywhere; type-play; heartstrings-play. Readers will phone one another, to read some aloud. (Quote a whole poem, here? Easy.) "Gandhi is dandy. / But violence is quicker."

As the echoes of Memorial Day recede, be aware of the success of some veterans in getting their recollections into public print. Books like these may lack documentary backup, or air old grudges, or inflate incidents and individuals. Yet their candor can be compelling.

Mostly, the old-timers seem grateful to have survived. For some, war long ago is still their most graphic experience. A few of these local-author memoirs, one by a noncombatant:

"Angels of Mercy: An Eyewitness Account of Civil War and

Yellow Fever," by Sister Ignatius Sumner; edited and researched by Sister Mary Paulinus Oakes (Cathedral Foundation Press, 112 pages, $16, softbound). Fannie Sumner (1825-1895) was an upper-class Baltimorean and niece of the abolitionist Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner. Having converted to Catholicism, she was in 1860 one of six Sisters of Mercy sent to Vicksburg, Miss. - riverboat-sinful in peace, starved and then crushed in war. Her slow-moving journal is the basis for this book.

"The Engineer in War and Peace: From Guadalcanal to Main Street," by Philip C. (Pete) Cooper (Gateway, 206 pages, $25). Cooper was in the Seabees; later, he worked for the State Roads Commission and Salisbury's city government.

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