catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 18 :: 2009.09.18 — 2009.10.01


Byron’s Recommendations 9.18.09

Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith & J.B. Mackinnon 

All right, I’ll say it right out: I liked this better than another book I said I liked last summer, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by the esteemed and vital Barbara Kingsolver.  Yes, Kingsolver is a master of luscious sentences, and her story of their year of farming was very nicely done.  But this!  This was fun, really interesting, and significantly engaged me as this young couple promise to live on what they’ve dubbed “the 100 mile diet.”  To keep from wasting energy and fuel by shipping food all over the planet — a wasteful and unsustainable habit that they don’t spend too much time describing — they intend to eat only stuff grown within 100 miles of their Vancouver home.  They are both journalists, so they’ve got the reporting thing down, and as young writers, they’ve got a spunky style that is appealing and clever. Some of their pages are truly beautiful, some nearly anguishing.  As Deborah Madison, author of Local Flavors, writes, “I assure you that your farmer’s market will never again look the same.  Nothing you eat will look the same!  This inspiring and enlightening book will give you plenty to chew on.”  Yes, it is noble, and give us much to think about as we try to live better lives; Bill McKibben is right in his blurb that says that their account shows us how we might live in a way that is “better for this earth, better for the community and better for our bellies.”  But here is why I list it now: it was just a hoot to read and I really grew to care about them. They can really write.  It was a great saga. I couldn’t put it down. By the way, the paperback has a new design and a new subtitle, the more prosaic Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet. 


Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

My wife Beth and I really, really love this guy — this writerly rural fella who regularly makes you laugh, and occasionally cry, and often clap your hands at the joy of a well crafted sentence.  Jonathan Miles (Dear American Airline) says he writes books of “ultra-charming Midwestern earnestness and serrated wit” and that he is “outrageously funny and surprisingly touching.”  Homesteader Gene Logsdon writes that “there is a literary gem on every page.”  We adored his Population 485 and Truck and the thoughtful essays Off Main Street. Here he is, again, in the middle of rural Wisconsin, recalling his religious upbringing, his farming family, and he narrates a season in which he and his new wife do a home birth, raise some pigs, build a chicken coop, mourn the death of relative’s child, struggle with the balance of his writing life and their rural life, try to be good neighbors, try to be good to each other and actually get some stuff done.  This is one of my all time favorite books, and it is intelligent, wise, very well crafted, and deeply caring.   Some of his sentences just made me smile, others had an impact that I can hardly explain.  Highly recommended. 


Causing a Scene: Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places With Improv Everywhere by Charlie Todd & Alex Scordelis 

I often review heavy books about theology and social criticism and social injustice and deep stuff about our inner lives.  It’s what we do, mostly, in our work with Hearts & Minds Books and we think our readers appreciate knowing books about the intersection of faith and culture, worship and work, prayer and politics.  I love regular non-fiction. But sometimes, I just am taken with a book, or even a part of a book that doesn’t have too much point.  I had no idea about “Improv Everywhere” (but my kids knew, and you probably do, too).  They pull off these large-scale outdoor stunts, pranks that they truly insist should not harm anyone, with a network of folks who show up that they call “agents.” (I’m not making this up!)   They invade a Best Buy store with hundreds of people dressed in blue and khaki, and watch the mayhem for a bit.  They recruit people to “freeze” in Grand Central Station, freaking people out. They host an autograph signing in a real bookstore with an author that has been dead for a century, until the store makes ‘em leave.  They are unpredictable, off the grid, loony, brave and, I think, on to something.  I’m just not sure what.  This book explains some of their best pranks, how they came up with the ideas and the details of what actually went down during the actions — I think anyway.  I can’t actually say, because I was laughing too hard to actually read it all, and went online right away to see this stuff.  The Youtube videos are entertaining, but — and I’m not just saying this — the book really is better. In the acknowledgments, the authors admit that they’ve learned about the “Situationists” art movement, but they mostly thank Andy Kauffman and the Flaming Lips in the acknowledgments.  Of course they do.  Check them out.

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