I wrote a review of this book for my local newspaper (then posted it on Amazon) when I first read it a couple of years ago. Here's what I wrote: I've a...moreI wrote a review of this book for my local newspaper (then posted it on Amazon) when I first read it a couple of years ago. Here's what I wrote: I've always been drawn to that genre of books that describe making a home--a place to live and raise a family--in the wilds, against all odds. At the top of my list would have to be Margret Wittmer's classic tale, 'FLOREANA, A Woman's Pilgrimage to the Galapagos,' which first appeared in English in 1961. Wittmer's tale of arriving (5 months pregnant) with her husband in 1932 to the island of Floreana from her native Germany and staying on (for generations) is a true adventure story, a historical account, and a treasure. I have also enjoyed the much more recent DRIVING OVER LEMONS, Chris Stewart's humorous and warming account of setting up residence with his family in rural Andalusia. The Galapagos--certainly; Andalusia--maybe; but jolly old England? What could such a civilized first-world locale have to contribute to this genre?
Remarkably, Lawrence Dyer's A COTTAGE ON THE MOSS offers a unique contribution. The book chronicles the story of Lawrence and Christine Dyer in their search for a home and their eventual purchase of a tiny and remote stone cottage built over 200 years ago on a peat bog in the Northern Peak District. Dyer is a natural writer and his story of first being drawn to the area and then to the cottage, of making it habitable (and warm enough!), and of trying to find a livelihood that will bring him closer to the land--Dyer and his wife are both teachers; ultimately they settle on raising Shetland ponies--is a beautifully told tale of struggle against harsh weather, long and severe winters, isolation, a string of bizarre car crashes, rodent and insect infestations... More importantly, it is about the relationships one forms with the animals one lives with and cares for, and the land itself. One of the book's charms is that Dyer is not afraid to admit to and chronicle his mistakes, and so we learn with him: about foal birthing, gardening, house repair in a forbidding but awe-inspiring landscape. Writes Dyer: "If I were one of the curlews and could fly over the Moss I'd see the whole landscape from a better perspective. I'd see the broad horseshoe of hills that surround the Moss and run off to the west, the tops of all the peaks as a mass of jagged rocks and stone formations. On the moss itself I'd see the northern end sloping gently down at first then plunging into a deep river valley... Our imaginary curlew flying over the Moss and looking down at the brook's attempts at valley-making would see our little cottage close by, thrown up out of the gritstone that is the very bones of the land..."
"The very bones of the land..." I love that phrase. Dyer's account of tending to and learning from the very bones of the land is rich in detail, generous and inspiring. Though I'd have liked more about people and relationships in the book--his neighbors, those wise and wizened characters; something more about his wife's and his trials with this ongoing experiment--that really isn't Dyer's subject matter.(less)
this is the zaniest thing I've ever read...?*&%$#@!
Shit I just added a whole bit to this review and lost it! How did that happen?! all right...tryi...morethis is the zaniest thing I've ever read...?*&%$#@!
Shit I just added a whole bit to this review and lost it! How did that happen?! all right...trying again: my advice: read it in one sitting. or two. Best to not break the rhythm. I didn't do this and found it harder to re-enter Katzman's zany world. I might've been better prepared if my parents hadn't deprived me of television and cartoons when I was a kid (always useful to blame the parents). I had to come up for air quite often... Katzman is a very funny guy. I'd love to see him do the improv. theatre and comedy I've heard him talk about.
On surer footing, I can tell you that as an objet d'art, this book is 5 stars + . It's exceptionally well-designed, from the cover art to the matte finish, to the book size, the paper quality, the typeface and the variety of typography within. And I love how each chapter has a sponsor. Incredibly inventive & well-done.
For a long time I was too preoccupied to really get these stories. They are not the sort of stories to immediately transport you. But they do transpor...moreFor a long time I was too preoccupied to really get these stories. They are not the sort of stories to immediately transport you. But they do transport you, when you're ready. The title story is sad and beautiful. It's a good place to start.
The world of Alan Beard's stories, in and around Birmingham, is wonderfully detailed. The stories are poignant: people in or out of work, in a relationship or marriage, or looking to be in one... I really like Beard's description, his characters' observations: Betty and Brian: "When I was forty, my mother married again. It wasn't exactly wedding of the year. The bridegroom arrived on his bicycle and stuttered his 'I do.' The registrar, who only visited the town on Fridays, looked benign and official, but when he smiled, he had a tooth missing. The guests were few and rum, and the bridesmaid, Aunt Maureen, farted." Later, of the groom: "He looked myopic, as if the world consisted of ten feet around him, and was surprised to find me in that space."
In Nothing Personal: "Her pubic hairs felt like old tobacco left in a tin." (of a prostitute the narrator's with) and later: "Today had been all walking away, I thought."
There is an underlying tenderness in Alan Beard's stories, and that may be what I like best about them. These people who lose their jobs, who get robbed and pay for sex, who fart and belch and drink and love--most of all, they love, and we don't so much pity them as feel for them, and feel for ourselves as well.(less)