A Book About Northwest Salmon Culture Makes a Big Splash, But You Should Throw It Back

Langdon Cook’s ‘Upstream’ goes swimmingly when it isn’t drowning in small, bad writing choices.

Courtesy Ballantine Books

Mark Kurlansky’s nonfiction book about cod, titled Cod, is a critically praised bestseller bordering on modern-classic status. It’s easy to forget that when Cod was released in 1997, nobody expected a book about a goddamned fish, of all things, to change the course of publishing. But Cod kicked off a craze of popular books devoted to the history of everyday objects—Kurlansky’s Salt followed soon after, and other books about screwdrivers and paper and rats tumbled down the pipeline. (It should be noted that all these owe a debt to John McPhee’s exquisite Oranges, published a full three decades before Cod.)

When Cod was still topping bestseller lists, though, many Northwesterners took offense at Kurlansky’s choice of starring fish. Why would he choose one as drab and plain as cod when the mighty salmon, which lived at the very center of Northwestern culture for centuries before white people ever set foot out here, had never had a book devoted to it?

It took two full decades, but the salmon response has finally arrived. Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table does much the same work as Cod, looking into the environmental, cultural, and culinary impact of wild salmon versus salmon farming. It leaps back into the past, delves into the science, and follows the food chain from fishermen to fancy restaurants. Even better, it’s by Seattle journalist Langdon Cook, who has written extensively and well about mushrooms.

Unfortunately, Upstream is kind of … well … the truth is, it’s pretty rough.

Read the rest of this review in the print edition of Seattle Weekly or online here at Seattle Review of Books. Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read books coverage at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

More in Arts & Culture

Album Premiere: Ruler’s ‘Winning Star Champion’

Seattle music scene utility player Matt Batey steps into the spotlight with his new indie rock album for Barsuk Records.

Davis’ Duchess explains the rules to Burton’s Lady Windermere. Photo by Robert Wade
Taproot Theatre Reveals Victorians’ Secrets

Oscar Wilde’s comedy demonstrates the pitfalls of virtue.

I Am Not a Witch. Photo courtesy SIFF
SIFF 2018 Picks Week 1

From a PBS star to a hip-hop firebrand, our choices for the must-see films screening at the fest from May 21–28.

Hearts Beat Loud. Photo courtesy SIFF
SIFF 2018 Picks: Opening Weekend

From Chinese internet stars to a classic Japanese masterpiece, our choices for the must-see films screening at the fest from May 17–20.

Beth Knowles is the Mayoral Lead for Homelessness and Rough Sleeping at Greater Manchester Mayor’s Office. Photo by Candace Doyal
Beth Knowles Discusses the U.K. Tackling Homelessness Through Art

During her Seattle visit, the head of Manchester’s homelessness task force talked about creative solutions to the global problem.

The West Seattle Bee Garden at High Point Commons Garden serves as the hub for the annual West Seattle Bee Festival. Photo courtesy West Seattle Bee Garden
The Buzz About West Seattle Bee Festival

The event’s sixth edition mixes environmental education and fun family activities.

Death Cab for Cutie To Play Free Concert for Paramount Theatre’s 90th Anniversary

Tickets for the June 23 show will be awarded via Ticketmaster’s random lottery.

Nordic Museum’s grand Fjord Hall. Courtesy the Nordic Museum
An Ocean Away

While it may look the part, the Nordic Museum feels hollow.

La Luz returns to its old stomping grounds for two nights of surf rock bliss. Photo by Chona Kasinger
Pick List: Paul Simon, Lady Windermere’s Fan, La Luz

Stay entertained with our picks for the week’s best events.

Most Read