Monday, August 16, 2010

Coop

When Kim mentioned that there would be a discussion of Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg by Michael Perry over at Estella's Revenge today, I thought it would be a fun book to read and discuss, expecting something like Bob Tarte's wonderful Enslaved by Ducks or Jeanne Marie Laskas' Fifty Acres and a Poodle. And it is a book very much like those two--the writer is playing at farming, mostly to write about it and because of a love for animals. This one is a little more down-to-earth, though. Perry is the son and brother of real farmers, and he can do things people like me would have to study to be able to do, like tell timothy from any other kind of grass in a field. He's an interesting character, raised by fundamentalist Christians and "a fellow who put himself through nursing school by working as a cowboy in Wyoming."

I liked a lot of the quiet moments in this book, like his admiration for people who come to church choir practice. Anyone who has ever contributed time and talent to a volunteer music group will remember what it's like from these details:
"hustling through supper so they can make rehearsal on time, giving up their evenings in, their television shows, their early-to-bed. Doing it as fall becomes winter, fighting the first snowy roads. Memorizing their lyrics and learning their parts, with no expectation of remuneration beyond smiling faces and afterward, coffee and cookies."

I also like the details about how Perry gets his daughter Amy a guinea pig, and how he acquires two pigs and two different kinds of chickens--layers and meat chickens. His description of lambing at his father's farm is memorable, but it's the little moments I like best:
"Audible human mastication drives me nuts in a split second, but for some reason I find the sound of sheep chewing a soothing nocturne. An animal in distress does not bring up a cud, and all that muffled molar work--with regular pauses to swallow one bolus an bring up another--sends a subliminal message of contentment."

Perry sometimes has a wry way of putting things: "Bombing down a country road in a pickup truck with my daughter has become one of the signal joys of fatherhood. Throw a couple of dead pigs in the back and you've got yourself a Hallmark card on wheels."

Most of all, I like his realization, towards the end of the story of his year, that he is "trying to do too much, and I'm not the one paying for it. I haven't cooked a meal with my wife in months. The pantry is full with home canning, and I spent maybe four hours in the garden. The division of labor has become nigh unto no division at all."

There are a few things I didn't like about this book. Although he usually doesn't flinch from describing the grittier side of life in the country, he glosses over the fate of Fritz the dog, who killed four of his chickens, by telling a story about his father and then relating his daughter's reaction to the chicken deaths. He occasionally tells pointless stories from his own childhood and then tries to glue on an inappropriately stereotyped ending, like one story about a sibling getting his head stuck in between two boards with the tag line "I was always confused when city kids asked us how we had fun without a television."

Overall, though, this was a satisfying immersion in country life without having to get my hands dirty. I wonder if this is an emerging genre--armchair farming books. Reading them gives me the same kind of pleasure I get from reading about other peoples' gardening and cooking, but with extra animal antics added in.

10 comments:

FreshHell said...

Sounds like a worthwhile read.

kittiesx3 said...

I think a book like this might be a bit like playing "let's pretend" the way I did as a little girl. Only I always wanted to play olden days (that's what I called it) and wear a long dress and pretend I had a wagon and stuff and was moving out West.

Care said...

I have zero interest in reading about farming. I will be skipping this one.

Jodie said...

Armchair farming sounds a bit like getting to give other people's kids back after playing with them. I always wanted to be a farm child when I was young (too much Enid Blyton) so it might be nice to return to the farm with adult books. Although I'd be happy with a glossed over doggy shooting myself.

Chris said...

After reading Coop, I realized just how much work farming really is. I like to dream about having chickens and sheep but I don't know if I could do it.

baby crib said...
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Jeanne said...

FreshHell, you might like it, gardener that you are. You are one of the people I was thinking about when I said I like reading about gardening.

Elizabeth, I think it is a kind of pretend game for adults!

Care, it's also about fatherhood and food (as in raising your own), but I do see it as mostly about "let's play farm."

Jodie, yes, reading it is very much like playing with someone else's baby! The dog incident just seemed inconsistent with the rest of the book--if you don't like gritty, you might not like some parts of this book.

Chris, yes, he does show how much work it is. I think having several animals is a lot of work if you do it right, no matter what kind of animals they are.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I do think "armchair" farming is becoming a genre -- I can think of like 10 books that I think fit the category pretty well. But even if I read them all, I think this one would stick out for a lot of the reasons you pointed out.

Jeanne said...

Kim, although this is a good one, my favorite is still Enslaved by Ducks

Olduvai said...

Ooh two more books to add to my TBR list - and will have to start a new section on armchair farming.

Great blog, by the way. I'll be back!