I’m not sure how this happens, given the fullness of my life, but somehow I manage to knock back a surprising number of books. Maybe it’s just the decision to do so. Or, oh right. Maybe it’s directly proportionate to those enormous filth bunnies under the couch. Bigger the bunnies, bigger the books.
Lately I’ve been on yet another Wendell Berry bender. I’m mostly done with Home Economics, with the long sought What Are People For just barely cracked. Both are essays, as most of his books seem to be. I’m realizing that my beloved The Unsettling of America is a rare gem as a singular, spanning, cohesive argument. He says in the intro to Home Ec that his essays are experiments, a way to test out an individual thought or argument. That makes sense, as a budding writer I get that. Still, the enormity of The Unsettling is so satisfying, it’s hard not to want that same perfect reading experience over and over again.
Home Ec covers a range of loosely related subjects. A few weren’t that interesting to me, but on the whole it’s classically great Wendell. The Two Economies has been my favorite so far, in which he describes what we consider the economy as just a small economy within what he calls the Great Economy. He explores some religious issues in this one, quotes quite a bit from the bible which only Wendell Berry can get away with in my book. He talks about the critical importance of recognizing and revering the enormous mystery of the world/universe. Recognizing that we can only ever know just a little part of things. He talks about religion as a way of bowing to that greater mystery, which I found interesting since I have always thought of religion as the complete opposite, arrogantly assuming it understood the mystery. But I do see where he’s coming from, and it helps me to have a little more respect for religion.
I think I might have to take a break before moving on to What Are People For though. I’m feeling a bit overdosed on my man. He’s the boss, for sure, but he’s so effing cerebral, geez. That’s partly what I love about him. I love the way he can just lay it out, so completely covering every detail in perfect order, with all the ends tucked neatly in. God to be able to think like that.
On the other hand, I do think a little like that, and I wouldn’t say it’s always enjoyable. Maybe it’s just my recent decision to try to connect more with my heart energy and let go some of that thinkingthinkingthinkingclickclickclick. I need more reverent poetry at this point in my life, less complex dissections of the modern world. (Fortunately my man Wendell writes poetry as well! How can he do that?????)
What I really need is some Mary Oliver. She is like cool water running over sore feet. And Gary Snyder. I just borrowed Axe Handles from a friend. Looks great so far, more my style than his more famous Turtle Island. There’s even, get this, a poem about Wendell Berry! Of course they would have hung out, but I didn’t know that. Awesome. Imagine kickin’ it with Wendell and Gary.
I recently finished Gary Paulsen’s Clabbered Dirt/Sweet Grass, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s an almost lyrical account of farming in America circa 1920’s. It’s the era Wendell always waxes on about, described in intimate heart-wrenching poetic style. This one sparked an interesting thought process which is really the subject of another post, but here’s the gist: Where the fuck are all the babies and toddlers in literature? Every single human being starts there, and yet can you think of any books that have babies or especially toddlers in them? I mean occasionally there’s a book about a woman having a baby, but even that is extremely rare. And other than those few, the only kids in books seem to be at least 5.
In Clabbered Dirt, the only babies or toddlers mentioned are in the stories of farm accidents. Aunt Dora who’s baby fell into the pig pen. Nothin’ left to bury but an arm.
I don’t really like to give negative reviews, but then, aren’t they just as useful? The Quarter Acre Farm by Spring Warren was disappointing. I actually bought it new (online– sight unseen for some reason) and can’t even get through it. No offense, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. But, there’s nothing to offer either. It’s magazine writing. Tediously substance-less. God, I shiver just writing such a scathing sentence. I know some people really enjoy that kind of reading as a way to just relax with a book. I wish Ms. Warren the best and if anyone had a happier experience with this book, please leave it in a comment. Maybe it’s just me?
I also bought new Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by the pop-superstars of our weird subculture– Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen. That I don’t regret. Partly just because I love those guys and will support whatever they do. Making It is a pure project book, covering everything from butchering chickens to homemade hand lotion. All the instructions are pretty basic, and a lot of the material has been covered dozens (if not hundreds) of times before in homesteading how-tos throughout the ages. But never before with such spunky style! And they do throw in some fun odd-balls like homemade altoids and the triumphant oyster shell oil lamp. I wish I had read their astute section on laundry soap back before I had to find all that out the hard way. The part about using straight olive oil as a body wash was fascinating. They maintain that you don’t need soap, that oil strips dirt. I tried it, I’m not entirely convinced. I felt perfectly clean enough, but then the instructions are to scrub deeply and you can get reasonably clean with just hot water if you scrub enough. Again though, I love the way they try to get back, waaay back to the beginning of a thing. Why make olive oil soap if you can just use olive oil? I myself only shower once a week, so I feel soap is in order.
Lastly I want to tell you about The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I found a stack of quality books by a trash can a few months back, this being one. Several people I admire have told me this is one of their favorite books ever, and I’ve meant to read it for ages. It seemed that it would be too much, too heavy a read for an always exhausted mama, but it has turned out to be just right. After two months I’m only halfway through (I read it in one or two page increments at the end of my unbelievably long days, while I wait for My Man to finish up putting the 4yo to sleep). It’s substantial enough that it gives my brain the most lovely un-parental feeling of actual use, but not so deep that I can’t get a foothold. It’s the perfect balance for me. And I might even finish it someday.
If that wasn’t enough of a book binge for you, here’s a few past book reviews: