So, it’s been a while, huh?

I know.

I know, I know.

I know.

*Catlike conscience uncurls, blinks, and begins pawing at the computer*

“John, didn’t you plan on blogging regularly and leading a magical, post-graduation literary life?”

Well, yeah, but–

“Didn’t you at least mentally, if not actually in a post, promise to write more?”

Sure, it’s just that–

“Where have you been since July? And did you bring me a treat?”

First of all, shush and let me talk.

Secondly, I know, and I apologize for being neglectful. No, I don’t have a treat, but I do have a book review.

“Well, I suppose that will do.”

The Book

The Fate of Family Farming: Variations on an American Ideal by Ronald Jager

The Fate of Family Farming by Ronald Jager

Yup, this one.

What is it?

Ronald Jager‘s The Fate of Family Farming, focuses on the status of the American family farm by looking at its past, present, and future. The book is divided into three sections, beginning with a discussion and breakdown of four distinctly important historical moments drawn from nearly 400 years of farming in America. It is also within this section that he presents an overview of three defining agrarian voices: Louis Bromfield, Victor Davis Hanson, and Wendell Berry. From there, he discusses the present state of family farming with interviews and visits to four modern family farms. He concludes the book with a sections outlining the future of farming, focusing on industry, biotechnology, and “the soul of agriculture.”

What I liked

The book itself works in a beautiful way as an introduction of sorts to the discussion of agrarianism and small scale agriculture. By opening with a focused overview of key historical moments in Ag, the rest of the book is put into a context that constantly reminds the reader that our nation began as an agrarian one.

Jager also does a fantastic job providing a jumping off point for readers who are looking for more agrarian writing. Besides the chapter focusing on the three agrarian voices he points to, the book itself introduces the reader to the writings of Liberty Hyde Bailey and Gene Logsdon (one of my personal favorites) among others. In this way, he does a great job of giving the reader an excellent “beginner” book to agrarianism.

But the best part about The Fate of Family Farming is that despite being a beginner book of sorts, Jager manages to still show how agrarianism is more than just being eco and sustainably minded about agriculture, it is a philosophy as well. Towards the end of the book when he focuses on industrial ag and biotechnology, he comments on the ironies of technology and farming, showing that in many ways it isn’t really any one person’s fault, but rather the result of many rational decisions that have cumulatively created a negative effect on farming.

What I didn’t like

Really, the only things not to like are the things that make it so accessible as an introductory text. Yes, at times the narrative voice can be a little too casual and the ideas a little simple, but in the end, these qualities help make a broad topic easier to understand. Further, because the author provides so many other writers and sources, the reader is almost encouraged by Jager to seek out “meatier” texts when done.

Final Verdict

Yes. Ronald Jager‘s The Fate of Family Farming is definitely worth reading.

Even if you only have a passing interest in agriculture or where your food is coming from, this is a book that will not only alleviate some of your curiosity, but open a door to other, deeper texts.

 

 

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Libraries and New Books

Earlier today, an article on Salon was posted discussing Amazon shooting itself in the foot by putting brick and mortar bookstores–like Borders–out of business. The idea is that by shutting down the places people physically look at books, they lose business because no one is discovering anything new.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen articles like this (Amazon v. Bookstores), but it is the first time I realized there’s a group always absent from these discussions: libraries. Maybe it’s just my new job working in the circulation department at the Tippecanoe County Library (TCPL), but I’m actually surprised by how rarely libraries are mentioned in the literary and publishing community.

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I can’t count the number of times I’ve had discussions in classes about big box bookstores, indie bookstores, used bookstores, online bookstores, Amazon, e-readers, etc. On the other hand, I can’t think of a single time I’ve had a class bring up libraries in any discussion.

Yesterday I participated in the new employee group orientation here at TCPL, and as part of that orientation, I got to see the room in tech services where new books get processed and added to our system. The room smelled like new paper and ink, and every shelf had a long row of shiny new spines. Next to the door were even more books, not yet taken out of the UPS boxes they were shipped in. I don’t know exactly how many new books we process a year, but once I find out Monday, I’ll update this post–needless to say, it’s a lot.

The main library branch here has more than 301,000 items that can be checked out, and in 2011 alone there were more 500,000 people that passed through the doors–and this is just a small county library in Indiana. So my question is…

Why isn’t publishing talking about libraries? Are we too focused on simply the individual sales of books?

If we’re talking about Amazon making a mistake by eliminating physical bookstores–and therefore eliminating the way people discover new books–why aren’t we talking about libraries, locations that encourage and promote thousands of people a year to not only discover, but read new books as well?

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An Update From Lafayette

Things have been steadily rolling along here in Lafayette, Indiana. My fiancee and I have been exploring the town more, and now have a new favorite bar: DT Kirby’s.

While they have a decent alcohol selection, where the bar really shines is its food. Their menu takes the idea of a hamburger and turns it into an artform with many different works of art. I had the Bacon Egg Burger, which features an egg with the yoke still gooey enough to soak into the bun and burger, effectively melding the whole sandwich into one delicious experience.

The other place the bar shined was its service. Many of the bars I’ve been to have all had decent enough servers and bartenders, but they’re nearly always too busy to stop and chat. Now, however, I’m proud to say I’ve actually had a conversation with a bartender, not to mention the manager and owner himself. Everyone who worked there was more than happy to chitchat, most of the time interested enough in their customers to start the conversations themselves. Needless to say, this is a bar I plan to go to again in the future.

Besides the new bar, we also visited a great game shop: The Sage’s Shoppe. Granted, we have been there once or twice before, but this time we were more than just stopping by. We went to play some Magic the Gathering one evening, and found the environment and shop owner very inviting. Don’t get me wrong, I have a special love for The Wizard’s Keep back in Muncie, but this was a whole new experience. The entire shop was filled with people interested in what others were doing, and what others were doing was lots of different things. People there were playing anything from board games to table top RPG’s to Magic the Gathering/other trading card games. Like DT Kirby’s, this was again another place to add to my “Yes, I am going to come here again” list.

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Eureka!

Embodied Effigies

Logistics and Correspondence Master Cat here with some news:

 

Whew! After much deliberation and very silent arguing (not really, we tend to agree on just about every piece we read. We’re like that sometimes.), we’ve finally responded to all the submissions for Issue Three. In fact, we’re about to send out information to our contributors and head straight to work on designing and getting Issue Three up and running.

 

After a chance encounter with Design Guru and Wildlife Aficionado John at the Muncie, Indiana Goodwill, I think I can safely give you a spoiler alert as to Issue Three:

We’ve done deer. Get ready for a different part of the animal kingdom.

 

This issue is for the birds (which, on a related note, my sister-in-law would absolutely hate as she has been terrified of birds since childhood [thanks to an underage viewing of Hitchcock’s The Birds as…

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Libraries and Summer Reading

This week I started my new job as a circulation clerk at the local library here in Lafayette, Indiana. The work environment is great, my coworkers are cool, and the position pays well. But the best part of the job is how it’s changed the way I see libraries–and in just one week.

Libraries have always been big in my life. Growing up, my grandmother was the librarian at our high school. Every summer, my parents would pay not a small amount of money to get library cards at the Muncie Public Library (we were out of the tax zone for the city). And later, as an English major at Ball State, I spent the majority of my time in Bracken, our university library. So, yeah, just about every stage of my life thus far has included a vital library element of some kind.

The only problem, though, was that I always saw them as a service for me to use. They had books I loved to read, books I needed for research, quiet spaces to write in, rooms to reserve for group projects, computers, printers, copiers, etc. (believe me, I could go on).

This week changed that.

Well, really it was one little girl checking out a book I once had as a kid.

This book.

Little Bear’s Visit by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by the awesome Maurice Sendak.

Growing up, this was one of my favorite books. The love between Little Bear and his grandparents mirrored the relationships between my grandparents and myself. Whenever it was read to me by my mother, I felt I could easlily slip into his life. Since then, there have been a lot characters I’ve felt this way about, but truly Little Bear was the first.

When I saw a little girl checking out one of my favorite books, I realized that a library is more than a service in the same way a book is more than an object. There is a substance that can’t be seen or identified regarding the books we read and the passion we have for them.

Since the little girl, I’ve handled more books in four days than I think I ever actually have before (which, as an English major, is more than a little baffling), and every time I help a patron check out–whether it’s two books or a heavy stack–I’m always struck now with more meaning than before.

Okay, okay, maybe I’m getting a little hyper-poetic and cheesy, but damn. Books.

Piles of paper glued or stitched together filled with symbols that somehow draw emotion from us and make us feel.

I don’t think it’s wrong here to say that’s pretty fucking amazing.

And now I get to work in a building that stores and distributes them to anyone who wants to sign up.
Got any stories or love for libraries? Share them down below!

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Part 2, Unpacking, Getting Settled, & Exploring

In my last post, I explained how I was anxious about leaving home for the first time and living in a different city. Now that my fiancee and I are moved in and more settled, though, I’m looking at the brighter side of things.

Our apartment is wonderful. The kitchen and eating space are on one floor, and a spiral staircase leads to the bedroom/living space on a second. It’s not large by any means, but it feels safe and cozy (I like to call it our nest).

In just the first week of living in Lafayette I’ve begun to love the city. Unlike Muncie, Lafayette has a downtown filled with restaurants, bars, and plenty of shops to drift in and out of. (Just to highlight some of my current favorites: both The Black Sparrow and Chumley’s are great bars, and Java Roaster is a fantastic little coffee shop I’m looking forward to spending more time in.)

The winding streets and gorgeous architecture of the downtown keep reminding me how old the city is. Everything conveys a history that I want to learn, which is maybe the strangest feeling. After living my whole life in the Muncie area, there isn’t a whole lot that I was curious about. It was just home. But now that I’m in a new place–one that I’ve never lived in before–I want to explore not just the streets and stores, but the stories and past as well.

Living in a new city is odd, but definitely feels better than I thought it would. How about you, my dear followers? Have you ever gone to a new place with one expectation, only to discover you feel something completely different?

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Yeah, That’s Not How You Do Literary Citizenship

Really great post from my good friend, Sarah Hollowell, on the incident of a belligerent older writer at a reading I participated in Tuesday night.

Adventures in Storyland

getting real tired of your shit“I’m a professional writer of forty years! Can any of you stand up and say the same?”

The microphone hijacker is drunk. His shouts crash out of the speakers and drown the awkward silence.

A group of (really quite talented) writers in their twenties had gathered at the bar to read poetry and prose, to listen, appreciate, and celebrate each other. I came thinking, “Maybe I’ll read next time.”

The drunk does not approve. He repeats: “I’ve been a professional writer for forty years!” He reads clumsily from his partner’s book of poetry. He commands us to purchase it when it goes on sale next month on Amazon. To the relief of the crowd, he only reads one poem before retreating to his table.

I’ve been, for the most part, quite lucky in my meetings with other writers, so this man’s rude interruption last night came as a nasty surprise…

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