Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver- Book Review

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

Although Barbara Kingsolver and her family enjoyed the time they spent living in Tucson, Arizona, the severe water shortage and lack of locally grown food was something that always somewhat bothered them. So the family packed up and relocated to their land in Appalachia to experience an entire year eating locally so that they could pay close attention to what they were actually eating, and so they could reduce the oil used for their food to travel to them. Over the year they primarily utilized their own land and the local farmers’ market.

Wow. Not only does Kingsolver have beautifully lyrical prose, but she and her family are totally hardcore as well. All four of them completely bought into this project, eschewing all forms of quick convenience food – not that they relied heavily on it to begin with – but also locally out of season fruits and vegetables. Of all of the books I read for Harvest Week, this was the one that most inspired me to want to get off of my butt and do something. There were times that I got somewhat frustrated feeling that what Kingsolver was able to do would not be feasible for a good number of families, but that annoyance was mitigated by the fact that Kingsolver acknowledged this fact and made suggestions for how to do what was possible. In many ways this was actually a very practical book. As Kingsolver narrated the family’s story, her husband wrote short articles bringing their story into a larger context, and her college-aged daughter did a sort of wrap-up for most chapters, including recipes and sample meal plans for the week.

The chicken report: Chickens played a pretty prominent role in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” particularly in the life of Kingsolver’s youngest daughter who adored the birds and had a very well thought out business selling eggs. What really captured my attention, though, was a different breed of poultry. Kingsolver raised a brood of heritage turkeys, and some of the facts she shared about the type of turkeys most of us buy at the supermarket put me off my Thanksgiving dinner just a bit. For instance, we have so screwed with the genes of our factory farm turkeys that mature birds are “incapable of lying, foraging, or mating!” I mean, is that even a real bird at that point?

“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is a fantastically well-written and very inspirational book, and I highly recommend it.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell – Book Review

The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of Harper Collins

Josh Kilmer-Purcell, a former drag queen, and his partner Brent, the Dr. Brent of Martha Stewart fame, have a yearly apple-picking tradition. They like to escape New York City, getting far enough away that even the crowds of New Yorkers escaping to the country do not touch their weekend. On one such weekend, Josh and Brent discovered a small town upstate that looked dead but was full of wonderfully friendly people. During their reluctant trip back to the city, they stumbled upon a gorgeous old mansion on a farm.

Here’s another one for the LOVED pile! Not only did I finish “The Bucolic Plague” in a single day, I did so after sitting down with it at 7:30. I read it in a single sitting, so captivated by Kilmer-Purcell, both his story and his writing, that I didn’t put it down again until I finished sometime around midnight, and long after I had planned to go to bed. Okay, that’s not entirely true, I did have to get up to get a drink and stretch my legs once or twice, but I was always drawn immediately back to the book, to soak in life at The Beekman.

“The Bucolic Plague” had everything I look for in a memoir. First of all, there was an interesting story to be told. Two men rushing back and forth from their high-powered Manhattan jobs to their idyllic farm, trying desperately to make it work well enough that they can keep it, but with plenty of conflict and roadblocks along the way – what’s not to love? In addition, Kilmer-Purcell was both funny and honest. He didn’t shy away from talking about trying to market himself and his farm to keep it going. With their new show out, “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” that could easily have been something that he tried to downplay, but then “The Bucolic Plague” wouldn’t have had the ring of both desperation and truth that it did. I also appreciated that he was able to look relatively objectively at his and Brett’s problems without ever seeming like he was being overly harsh on his partner. He acknowledged that they were both to blame for some of the tension between them and was remarkably even-handed in his analysis.

The chicken report: Chickens weren’t huge stars in “The Bucolic Plague,” but when they did appear, their presence stole the show. One of my favorite scenes in the entire book was the first night that Josh and Brent spent at The Beekman, when they decided to make their first meal in the house with their chickens’ eggs. Unfortunately, nobody had been collecting the eggs and they had no guarantees about how fresh any of the eggs were. And, well, you can imagine the rest (or buy the book and read it for yourself).

I absolutely adored this book, and I think that you will too. I highly recommend it.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Discovery Communications.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Coop by Michael Perry – Book Review

Coop by Michael Perry
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

After spending his early life growing up on a farm, Michael Perry has returned, this time with his step-daughter and pregnant life. The family’s aim is relative self-sufficiency, or at least living from their land – and Perry’s writing work. His wife Annaliese, who plans to deliver the baby at home with the help of a midwife, will be homeschooling their daughter Amy (theoretically they are both doing it, but in practice it is largely Annaliese), and all of them will be working to get their farm working again. Pigs and chickens populate their lives, as Perry recalls his youth on a nearby farm and the lessons it has taught him, and those he has still to learn, about his adult life.

“Coop” has the feel almost of being Perry’s diary, or a recording of his thoughts over this year of his life. He travels effortlessly between the past and the present without being overly obvious about where he is going, but also while managing to give the reader a roadmap to what is happening when. It was this highly effective subtlety that really impressed me about “Coop.” Perry’s remembrances of his past always tied in with what was going on in the present, as might be expected with the diary or journal feel that “Coop” had, but he never belabored the point. Instead, Perry gives his readers the tools necessary to make the connections and he trusts them to do just that, not even titling his chapters. And you know what? It worked. I got the themes, I understood the trains of thought, and I felt that Perry respected me as a reader by not explicityl spelling every last thing out for me. He is also brutally honest about his life and hardships and is always hardest on himself without being obnoxiously self-deprecating, which is hugely attractive in this sort of memoir.

The chicken report: Perry had both laying hens and meat hens. I’m really only interested in the former, I have no desire to butcher my own meat. I loved his love of the chickens, and his descriptions of their personalities. I thought he walked the line between loving the birds and not becoming too attached very well and, even more impressively, he helped his young daughter do the same.

Perry seems to respect me as a reader and, as such, I respect him greatly as a writer. This is not the world’s fastest read, but it is a book worth taking your time with; I definitely recommend it if you are interested at all in the life of a man and his family returning to the farm.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Harvest Week: Why Harvest Week?

Of everything I do on my blog, there is one feature which I have been wanting to do for a very long time, the feature which I am actually starting today, and that is Harvest Week. So now you have two questions:
1) What is Harvest Week?
2) Why have you wanted so badly to do this?

Glad you asked! Harvest Week is simply a (made up by me) celebration of those people who have marched opposite to the general flow of American society and made the trek from the city back to the farm. To celebrate I will be reviewing three books that are on this theme to varying degrees: “Coop” by Michael Perry, “The Bucolic Plague” by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. I thought that Thanksgiving week was an appropriate time for this, since it was originally about celebrating the bounty of the earth which sustained the Pilgrims.

‘Why Harvest Week’ is a more personal question. Part of the reason was just that I wanted an excuse to make time for the books I will be reviewing this week. This type of food literature has been near and dear to my heart ever since I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan shortly before I began blogging. They really aren’t quite the same type of book as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” (which I loved), but they do typify the type of life I have been drawn to ever since reading Pollan’s book. As an aside, I don’t think that it will ever cease to be funny to me that his last name is POLLAN, and he writes about FOOD, and PLANTS in particular.

Anyway, ever since “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” I have harbored a not-so-secret desire to have a backyard that contains both a vegetable garden and chickens. They’ll eat my bugs! They’ll provide great fertilizer! Eating grass and my bugs will give their eggs a crazy good flavor compared to the generic junk at the grocery store!

Um, yeah, so anyway, there’s the thing you may not have known about me, I geek out over the thought of raising chickens. I don’t really know how it is done, though, so let’s hope that I pick up some tips from this week’s books.