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opal has commented on (5) products.

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love

opal, April 22, 2014

If you are a reader seeking fast and compelling text, Kimball's book will not disappoint.

Should you be seeking substance, or quality insights pertaining to stewardship of land and animals, you will not find that here. Anyone with experience as a farmer or rancher (which I have) will soon be wincing in embarrassment for the author and for her husband. The all-too-common personality encountered here is a sad and discouraging comment on our society. Because this pair (the author and her husband) decide that they want what they want when they want it (a fully developed farm in one year), their animals suffer inexcusably, their families suffer, and the reputations of young farmers in America suffer due to the impatience and hubris of this couple.

This farming memoir is absolutely not a good example of how to behave, or of how to learn, or of how to live an ethical life. The hopes of the author were laudable (to produce excellent organic food for a community), but the actions of the author and her husband were breathtakingly exploitive. The author does not see the pointy-elbowed approach to life that she and her husband personify in "The Dirty Life." Working ridiculously hard at a task does not magically create grace, and it does not justify exploding the lives of others (human or animal) just to get what one wants. For instance, the text explains that the couple had the time and money to host a party of perhaps 2 dozen people for their wedding at the farm, but instead they invite 300 guests and happily allow their exhausted families to work for days on end just to save the event from being a catastrophic disappointment. They buy chickens before they have adequate housing for the birds, and frostbite (quite predictably) is the result. It continues in this vein and only gets worse, without the author ever stumbling over her own tragic lack of compassion for those she and her husband use up and inconvenience. This is not sustainability. This is not a new model for farming. This is a self-indulgent adventure for an irresponsible and, sadly, arrogant couple.
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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

opal, June 14, 2012

Oy.....What a painful experience.....for the hopeful reader, that is.
As a feminist and as a victim of oppression by religionists myself, I was so looking forward to this book after learning of its release on the BBC news site. Sadly, it is a disappointing, cobbled-together, "bound blog," meaning that there is no book here, just blog installments from a superficial, scattered, and uninteresting writer. The author, Deborah Feldman, was most definitely subjected to yet another misogynist, authoritarian, crazy religion, but even at the end of the book, reading about all that she endured, the reader finds her to be a most unappealing person, with a dull and whiney disposition.

Throughout her memoir there is no revelation of compassion or even of interest (beyond envy) in the lives of others who helped her to reach adulthood, or who befriended her along the way. As a book about Satmar Hasidism, it does inform the reader of a number of bizarre rituals practiced by that orthodox sect, but over and over, just when some depth is needed, the author veers away from exploring the rituals adequately enough for the outsider to reach a satisfying understanding. She has engaged in virtually no historical or sociological research on Hasidism to put her story into any sort of perspective. She portrays herself as almost immune to the suffering of the women around her, and when she leaves her community, somehow legally taking her child with her (the accomplishment of which is never explained except for a mention of a pro bono lawyer in the acknowledgements), one is almost more sympathetic toward her husband, who, in her story, is every bit as much of a pawn of the terror of fundamentalism as is she. The way he is described, one must conclude that he has a longer leash than she, but a leash just as cruel, and just as sturdy as her own. Disappointingly, the author spends no time on such an analysis.

The book has large photos at each chapter page, none of which are accompanied by any explanatory text. Who are these people? Why is this photo in the book? I guess it's none of our business! I have read a promo which compares this book to Carolyn Jessup's memoir "Escape." If you are a fan of that extremely important, excellent work, know that "Unorthodox" falls very, very short of it, and anyone making the comparison in a favorable way ought to be ashamed. Feldman's editor should have pointed out to her that it is poor form for an author to admit to the reader that she was desperate for cash to leave her marriage and received a book offer for a beefed-up version of her blog writings, when the reader is nearing the end of such a thin excuse for a liberation memoir. There are so many valuable stories about women that need to be told, that need to see the light of day, that need to expose how religion distorts our psyches and imprisons, abuses, extorts, and enslaves us. I am sad that this narcissistic and narrow memoir might masquerade, for a time, as one of those.
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Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously by Adrienne Martini
Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously

opal, May 27, 2010

When I first stumbled upon this book, I was enthusiastic, and read it with a sincere desire to appreciate it.

However, except for Martini's clear style of prose, which I appreciated (although it is uncomfortably similar in style to that found on the "Yarn Harlot's" blog), and for some interesting nuggets of knitting lore, this is an incomplete work, in my opinion. I felt as if the author was casting about for a topic to "write a book about," and came up with the thought that if she knitted a difficult sweater, she could talk to acquaintances during the process, with the sweater-project as a "theme," and mine the internet for knitting quotes and urls to fill up the pages. It is forced and superficial, and seems hurriedly written rather than well-crafted (which is an apt characterization perhaps, seeing as how the outcome of her garment sounded as if it fit the same description).

"My Year Of Knitting Dangerously" left me with the impression that I had just read a blog, not a book. It has pleasant moments, but there is no consistent thread, except for a sweater designed by a woman about whom she offers much "from-a-distance" analysis. The title doesn't even relate to the content. (There was no danger, and only an arbitrary, self-imposed "year.") The book bounces around to no purpose, as if Martini were multi-tasking while composing text, then forgetting how she had arrived at her next chapter. Her story would have made a fine, light magazine article, but for this knitter, it was not worth the read. This book was quite a stretch, and it did not block out.
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Cactus Thorn (88 Edition) by Mary Austin
Cactus Thorn (88 Edition)

opal, February 24, 2009

Cactus Thorn is one of my top ten favorite novels (novella). The writing is smart, beautiful, not overdone. The story is spare and profound. It grapples with the hypocrisy often seen in the private lives of "reformers," and the power that the "powerless" posess after all. Fierce, haunting nature-writing set in the area near the Owens Valley. Relevant today. I have purchsed copies for my women friends.
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Escape by Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer

opal, May 18, 2008

"Escape" is, in my opinion, one of the most important books in the last 50 years to reveal a core dynamic of U.S. society. I read it on a recommendation from a stranger, but could barely put it down. What Ms. Jessop's book, I believe unintentionally reveals, in her unpretentious, honest way, is that the FLDS is not an anomaly in our country. It is in fact a distillation of the patriarchal system which founded this country, and which, unlike the FLDS, has learned subtlety, but which has in no way lost its dominion.

I am a woman born and raised in the united states, and with a career history in many jobs which were nontraditional for my gender, so the author's experiences within the cult of the FLDS were sadly quite familiar to me, though more raw, unsophisticated, and outwardly brutal than what I dealt with daily at work.

The reader of "Escape" comes to understand how an entire community of intelligent and caring humans can be taught to live in fear of the ways of outsiders, and so to never turn to them, no matter how terribly they may suffer at home. The author writes that The FLDS members were allowed almost no news from the outside world to broaden their understanding and she matter-of-factly weaves together the bizarre incidents of her life to illustrate the strength of the grip that a cult like the FLDS has on its members.

I reflected, on finishing "Escape," that I live in a country of intelligent humans whose ignorance and fear of the ways of other countries (our version of "outsiders") stops us from demanding what plenty of our allies have: free health care, free college, a decent welfare system for the least amongst us, and a government which provides, rather than invades. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wonders why we aren't out in the streets with our banners and our pitchforks yet.

The toxic combination of religion, gender oppression, isolation, lack of opportunities, and little information from the outside world is unflinchingly laid out for us to examine in Ms. Jessop's brave book. "Escape" is not a literary achievement. She was not a writer, and makes no attempts at clever phrases or flowery descriptions, but her book is a revelation not to be missed, of the predictably tragic outcome of any society in which people can not or will not stand up for their rights and think for themselves. I thank her for writing it.
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