Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg by Michael Perry - 384 pgs

Book CoverMichael Perry has his hands full. With a new farm to manage, a baby on the way and various writing projects on his plate, Michael shares with the reader his trepidation and joy over the changing circumstances of his life. Drawing backwards towards the stories of his childhood, Michael reflects on his younger years on the farm. Raised by a pair of honest and generous parents, Michael often found himself sharing the house with dozens of special needs foster children and shares his memories of growing up in an obscure Christian fundamentalist sect. We learn about his early life on the farm, where his family spent quality time together baling hay, herding sheep and milking his father's beloved cows every evening. These days, Michael is trying to become self-sufficient and live from the land, which often makes for hilarious reading. From his amateur attempts at building a chicken coop to having his hind quarters bitten by a hound dog while wrestling a pig, Michael douses his stories with liberal doses of humor while also managing to be reverent and humble about the life he now leads. Coop is Micheal's memoir of his family's first year on the new farm, with all of the blunders, missteps and triumphs recorded for all the world to see.

It's so refreshing to read a memoir that is not filled with whining feelings of self-importance. By far, most of the memoirs I have read in the last three years have left me feeling dissatisfied and disheartened because they all just seem like a platform from which to complain and self-aggrandize. Coop was just the opposite. In Perry's gentle and friendly tone, he shares his year of farming and animal husbandry with the reader. One of the things that really impressed me was the way Perry speaks about his life. He is so clearly in love with the existence that he has created for himself; and that love extends to his wife, step-daughter and unborn child, as well as the animals he owns. There is no doubt that he relishes his time on the farm, and often, he describes his travails with a sense of wide-eyed wonder at the world and all that he has dominion over.

I must say that the majority of this book was highly amusing. Often, I would catch myself running from room to room after my husband, reading passages aloud in order to share the humor. Whether he is talking about his disabled chicken or spouting fortifying lectures to his six-year old daughter, Perry is always entertaining. I liked the sections where he chronicled his attempts to buy a couple of feeder pigs and the ensuing story of their care. I had no idea that pigs could be so beastly and grisly. It was a surprise to Perry too, I think. He speaks with aplomb about his intentions on raising sheep and tells of heavenly days spent mowing the fields on a tractor. The best thing about Perry's humor was its gentleness and absurdity. He is sometimes self-mocking but never makes the reader fell sorry for him; instead, he laughs along with us.

At times, the book takes on a more somber tone, such as when a friend from England passes away or when his young nephew drowns at the pond near his home. In these sections, Perry grapples quietly with his grief, spinning remembrances from the past into his present heartache. I read with tenderness during these sections and felt that Perry really wrote from his heart and soul. He put the words to the page in an effort to cleanse his heart of grief, and make his way stolidly forward any way that he could. It was clear to me that although these were painful times, Perry was grateful for his memories and the times that he was able to spend with these loved ones before they were gone. He also speaks openly about his parents' decision to take in foster children with severe disabilities and tells how the whole family came to be involved with their care, from feedings to making sure sutures were healing properly. Due to the fact that his childhood was not of the ordinary variety, Perry mentions that he is often comfortable in unusual situations and circumstances and that this has enabled him to see the world without judging it in the way others do.

Perry also speaks about how hard it is to care for a farm while having to make public appearances for his book tours. Though he knows that he needs to spend more time with his family on the farm, he has to leave in order to support them. Often, he shies away from his writing responsibilities to build more sweat equity and puts off the writing in favor of more back-breaking chores. He knows that he shouldn't do this, but at times he can't help himself and often feels that when he finishes a chore on the farm, the fact that he can tangibly see his effort makes him proud in a way that writing can't. He mentions the fact that his wife takes on the brunt of the responsibility when he is away and that he doesn't feel that it is an equal distribution of labor, but that is the way it has to be. I find it amazing that he can be so honest about this, and it makes me admire this man that is caught between two worlds.

There is a lot of life packed into this book. Perry encompasses the joy and sadness that life brings him out on the farm and in the city, far from home. He is grateful and serious and at times overwhelmed and silly, but all of this comes across with a feeling of wonderful forthrightness in everything he does. Whether he is lost in the fog of nostalgia or dealing with the everyday chores around the farm, Perry does it with an amiable disposition and a supreme amount of pluck. There are times he doesn't have the slightest idea of what he is doing (which he readily admits to his reader) and there are times when he is stepping back into a role he has played since childhood, sharing and expounding on things I have never heard mentioned before. It is the gentleness of his sharing that wins me over every time. Michael Perry is a man unlike others.

If you are the type of reader who loves memoirs but is tired of the woe-is-me quality of most of what's out there now, I would definitely recommend this book as a remedy. Those who would like to get a good look at farm and family life would also be enriched by this book. I would even recommend this book for readers who want a good belly laugh, because Perry can sure deliver on that front. It was a very charming read and I will now be heading towards his back catalog to find out more about this very funny man and his very interesting life. A great read, highly recommended!

About Michael

Michael Perry is a humorist and author of the bestselling memoirs Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time and Truck: A Love Story, the essay collection Off Main Street, and the upcoming memoir Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting. Perry has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Backpacker, Orion and, and is a contributing editor to Men’s Health. His essays have been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, and he has performed and produced two live audience recordings (I Got It From the Cows and Never Stand Behind a Sneezing Cow). Perry lives in rural Wisconsin, where he remains active with the local volunteer rescue service.

Visit Michael at his website,
Michael Perry

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Monday, May 17th: Tales of a Capricious Reader
Wednesday, May 19th: Book Nook Club
Thursday, May 20th: Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, May 26th: Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, May 26th: FIMBY
Thursday, May 27th: Chefdruk Musings
Tuesday, June 1st: Dreadlock Girl Reads
Wednesday, June 2nd: Book-a-rama
Thursday, June 3rd: Book Club Classics!
Monday, June 7th:  Find Your Next Book Here
Tuesday, June 8th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, June 10th: It’s All About Books

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


Jenny said...

Wow, sounds great and hilarious! I really didn't think I would be interested in a memoir about a farm, but this sounds good. And I am tired of the woe-is-me stuff too.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds really good to me since I'm reading a "complaining" memoir right now. Thanks for a great review!

Anonymous said...

I've only read his Population 451, but I'd recommend it. It's more of a collection of observations about small town life and the people around him.

Suko said...

Heather, this sounds like a truly GREAT book, a memoir written with humility, gentleness, wit, and wisdom. Wonderful review!

Aarti said...

Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! I was considering signing up for this tour, but decided against it. However, soon after, I promptly signed up for an ARC of The Bucolic Plague, which I'm quite excited to read on my trip to India

Cath said...

I always measure how great a book is by how many times I interrupt my husband's reading to quote passages to him! I love that you do, too, and I think Coop sounds like a great springtime read.


-Connie @ Constance-Reader

Ana S. said...

I'm very glad to hear this wasn't yet another misery memoir. The world has seen its share of those, IMHO :P

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I like memoirs and a story about a farm would not normally appeal to me but this one sounds funny.

Literary Feline said...

Funny is always good in a memoir, I say. This is probably not a book I would pick up on my own, but after reading your review, I'm really tempted!

trish said...

Sounds like a fresh memoir (and right up my alley)!

Lisa said...

This is not a book I would have looked at in the book store and given a second glance. But every one on the tour seems to be enjoying it and I'm definitely going to have to keep an eye out for it.

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