Summer is just about here, and you need some summer reading. Light. Fuzzy. Delightful. Amusing. Perfect for the deck chair or the sand. Nevermind the fact that you are a low-energy, transitioning, cheap, homseteading type, and your deck chair is probably planted on your porch, and the sand is the local playground sandpit – hey, it is summer, you’ve got to kick back with a book. But what book? The contemporary equivalent of _The Devil Wears Prada_ isn’t exactly the stuff of anti-consumerist legend. He may not be that into you, but since really you are both into your garden, who gives a hoot? No, we need our own summer reading list, and of course, your blogiste has you covered. So here’s what you can take to the (nearby, busable) beach with you!
I don’t buy a lot of sustainability/farmy books new – the single biggest benefit of being a writer is that people send them to me free (boy, oh boy has this been bad for my book habit!). You know when I actually go out and *BUY* a book because I have to have it faster than I could if I emailed the publisher, it is awesome. I picked up Harriet Fasenfest’s _A Householder’s Guild to the Universe_ in the local bookstore, and just plain was not leaving without it.
First of all, in the spirit of writerly envy, I would like to note how much I wish I’d reconstituted the term “Householder” myself. I haven’t been so jealous since I first saw _Pride and Prejudice and Zombies_ and though “Crap, I should have thought of that first!” ;-). Householding is precisely the word we need for domestic life.
Second, also in the list of shameful things that do me no credit, I must note how much I wish I’d written many of Fasenfest’s best lines – she’s very funny, insightful, wise and wonderful. Most of all, this book, while having plenty of grand advice for domestic management, sustainability, urban farming and all that grand stuff is just a plain delicious read, by the kind of person most of us want to be when we grow up.
I would have bet I would have hated any book with the words “Hobby Farming_ on the cover, but Michael and Audrey Levantino’s _The Joy of Hobby Farming_ is actually one of the better beginner books to homesteading/small farming/cottage industry production I’ve seen. I really wish I’d had this book when I started out, with its emphasis on small scale farming for income – but not a primary income. It goes beyond the basic backyard homesteading info, into how to make a little money at it – it also has a lot of good practical information about tools and management that I really liked. If you want to move out of the subsistence scale – or even are planning to start homesteading/farming on a small scale, this is a good starter book.
I would, however, suggest changing the title in the next edition – hobby farming evokes affluent people who buy land just to have it. We don’t call most part-time work we do a “hobby” – it is part of our work life. None of us hobby-taxi, hobby daycare or hobby parent – so why demean agriculture that way. It is, however, a really good book despite the bad title.
It hasn’t the dreamy qualities of fiction to take you away, but they are short and readable – Chelsea Green has just republished its _NOFA Guides_ to farming – 8, covering everything from organic poultry and dairying to seed saving and cover cropping. The most useful one I saw was the _Whole Farm Planning_ book, which had some very good organizational tools to it, although it was a little choppy and fragmented. It would have been nice to see someone put it in a more accessible style, and I couldn’t quite figure out why some things got so much attention and others none – but there aren’t a lot of books out there to help you plan your farm goals, and it really is helpful.
The soil and seed books are great, the dairying one is for cow owners only – not much to offer goat dairy folk. The organic poultry production is very good. They are a useful addition to my shelf, and very, very short, concise and practical.
Totally unconcise and really not very practical, but so good that Eric and I are fighting over who gets to read it first is Thomas Seeley’s _Honeybee Democracy_ . This is not a basic beekeeping book, this is based on Seeley’s extensive research in bee decision making. It is fascinating and well written and readable – maybe not everyone’s dream beach reading, but I’m loving it!
Ok, we definitely need some fiction – you can’t be Christopher Buckley for light and trivial, right? Well, any doomy guy or girl will enjoy _Boomsday_, which I personally think may be his funniest novel (I liked it better than _Thank You for Smoking_) – in it, the nation flares into conflict as Gen X and Y rebel at the cost of bearing entitlement programs as Baby Boomers age into Social Security. It is a semi-apocalyptic, comic novel that is a little too imaginable for comfort, but a great deal of fun.
Need to take up a new hobby this summer (because we all know how much free time you have, right?) While I’ve known how to drop spindle for a while (and indeed, find it easier than using my spinning wheel, since I can do it while watching kids, rather than setting up the wheel, finding uninterrupted time, etc…) but until I read Abby Franquemont’s superb _Respect the Spindle_ I don’t think I’d really grasped the degree to which hand spindling, done correctly, can be a production tool. This isn’t just a how-too book, but a meditation on the history of technology – I thought I was the only person in the world who felt the spinning wheel wasn’t always an improvement! It is fascinating (she became a production spinner by having spinning integrated wholly into her childhood in the Peruvian Andes) book, worth reading even if you’ve never wanted to pick up a spindle – and the best of the handspinning books I’ve read if you do.
On the subject of the fiber arts. if you haven’t read Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s _Women’s Work:The First 20,000 Years_ which provides an overview history of how spinning, weaving, cloth and clothing were both part of women’s lives and reveal this concealed part of history, you should. “It is a history of cloth making from the Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age” may not scream out “read me in the sunshine this summer” but after loaning it to a friend, I re-read it and I realized just what a great read it is!
On the much more frivolous side, there’s always Susan Wittig Albert’s new “Dahlias” series. I’m often annoyed by mysteries, and the towns that always have a convenient murder or two to solve, but I liked this one a lot – set in the small-town south during the Great Depression, it follows an Alabama Garden club through restoring a historic house, solving a few mysteries and making do in the Depression – and I’m awed by the creativity of Albert’s work. She’s very much Long Emergency Aware, and her Dahlia’s series is a away of leveraging her books (which hit the bestseller list on a regular basis) to get people thinking about Depression ways of doing things – as well as providing a pleasurable escape. _The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree_ is a lot of fun – and there’s food for thought. Just as I appreciated Kurt Cobb’s light thriller _Prelude_ because it is the kind of book that you can give to someone not interested in peak oil, Susan Wittig Albert’s Dahlias novel (there’s another one in the works) is a great way to start conversations about the past, without too much pressure.
Ok, so what are you reading this summer? What’s on your list?