Saturday, February 22, 2014

Literary Ruralism (Part VIII): NYT Sunday Book Review "Rural Life"

Under the headline "Rural Life" in the Sunday Book Review is Leigh Newman's review of four books:

A Memoir of Wayfinding
By Lynn Darling

This is the story of a woman who 
moves to off-the-main-road Vermont. There begins her fascinating inquiry into how human beings navigate, complete with tales of Inuits who found their way home by listening to bird songs and crash courses in map-reading with a wilderness guide. Despite her studies, each time she marches into the woods, she ends up bewildered, often on her own property. Various townsfolk call her brave. She wonders why. “You’re a woman living alone in the middle of nowhere,” a neighbor replies. “Brave is polite for crazy.”

An Adventure in Ordinary Splendor
By Suzanne McMinn
Life in the holler isn’t easy. Bewitched by her father’s family stories and her dreams of living where she “can have chickens in the road,” McMinn moves to rustic West Virginia. Soon after, she buys a farm with her new beau, known only by his numerical nickname, 52. Along come the goats, cows, pigs, donkeys, ducks and hens, which must be fed, bred, milked and occasionally bribed with molasses cookies (“Believe it or not, a goat hobbled on three legs can still kick”).
A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West
By Bryce Andrews

This memoir is set on a ranch (owned by a tech millionaire) in southwestern Montana.  
Andrews describes well the oddball challenges of rural living (the chinks in his cabin wall, for instance, “gobbled incandescent light”). But the beauty of this book is how such a personal story reflects larger issues about the American West — not just the politics of wildlife and real estate, but the strange, conflicting impulses engendered by such landscapes. 

A Farm Daughter’s Lament
By Evelyn I. Funda

Funda is an academic who looks back on her parents' sale of their Idaho ranch in 2001, a ranch they had worked since 1957.  Both died shortly after the sale, which was forced after they accumulated just $1500 in debt to a neighbor.
This book is part eulogy, part memoir and part investigation, as Funda unpacks her family’s relationship to their land and, in the process, examines the myth and reality of the American farmer. Its chapters are organized around different weeds symbolizing threats, past or present, to the farm. Wild, stubborn sagebrush, for example, was what her paternal grandparents discovered after arriving from Bohemia, when they’d expected to find rich, ready-to-work land.
Newman is the author of Still Points North.   

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