Jeanne Marie Laskas writes a weekly column for the Washington Post, so I was familiar with her voice before opening the book. Books like this are dangJeanne Marie Laskas writes a weekly column for the Washington Post, so I was familiar with her voice before opening the book. Books like this are dangerous for me, because I so desperately want to buy some property on a hillside in Appalachia. Books like this make my yearning stronger.
In the book, Laskas outlines the process of moving from her beloved Pittsburgh (yes, some of us really love Pittsburgh) to a farm in the rural area south of the city. Pittsburgh has yet to sprawl as badly as DC, which makes me jealous enough. Laskas moves with her fellah and they start collecting pets. Can you hear my jealousy growing. And they begin planning for livestock. And gardening. And they have a pond and a great view.
Of course, they also have the financial burden of a farm and the heartaches associated with aging friends and pets and loves. The author experiences some real heartache living in the country, and undergoes some of the difficulties of releasing her urban communities and convenience. Throughout, she remains an honest, interesting person with a charming voice. I burned through the book, and am likely to read her later works on parenting and farming....more
The book is a collection of essays about underground hobbies and interests practiced throughout the south, many of which are maligned as redneck or hiThe book is a collection of essays about underground hobbies and interests practiced throughout the south, many of which are maligned as redneck or hillbilly pursuits. The author seeks out and interviews moonshiners, raccoon hunters, squirrel-eaters, Soul-Food cooks, frog-breeders, Rolley Holers (those are folks who play a cool form of marbles), and cock-fighters.
The first essay is indeed about Noodling for Catfish, which has to be one of the most bull-headed, dangerous, and ancient methods of fishing we goofy apes have developed. Noodlers use their fingers as bait, locating a nesting male catfish tending his fertilized eggs, and then taunting him until he strikes at their arm. Apparently good noodlers can limit the amount of injury a fish does to their arm, but I'm sure lots of these fishermen (and they are generally men) have some hard-earned scars from the sport. Bilger manages to interview the noodlers respectfully and does end up risking his own arms in a fishing outing. More power to him, I guess. I found this essay and a documentary on Noodling really fascinating. I'm not sure why. I guess we kooks just like each other.
The book works because Bilger is respectful of all of the folks he interviews. He walks into these underground communities without any prejudice. He's willing to find out from his subjects why they do what they do. It was a bit tough for me to read about the cock-fights, and I'm sure some readers would be put off by the raccoon and squirrel hunting. I made sure not to discuss the sections on the more exotic (or is it less exotic?) eating habits with anyone in my class, lest folks find their own lunches less appealing. The chapter on Moonshiners was the best of the bunch: Bilger rides with both the Shiners and the Revenuers out to get them, and displays all with wit and sensitivity. And does indeed drink some shine with each crowd. If nothing else, I finished this book wanting to see some folks play Rolley Hole. ...more