As sad as it was, I really enjoyed Melissa Coleman’s memoir, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone. It is at times i...moreAs sad as it was, I really enjoyed Melissa Coleman’s memoir, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone. It is at times inspirational, at other times heartbreaking, and sometimes just frustrating. The frustration comes not from the writing, but from the actions of the people in Ms. Coleman’s story, and from the knowledge that this story is true – this is an honest account of her childhood and everyone who played a part in it. It is both tragic and beautiful.
The author has done an excellent job of taking her own memories and supplementing them with the perspectives of the adults from her young life, filling in the gaps, and yet making a cohesive story out of it. One does not recognize the different sources of the anecdotes she shares, but rather gets the sense that this was a very observant and precocious person with an astonishing power of recollection. The narrative has an easy, natural flow.
Melissa Coleman tells the story of how her parents came to the decision to drop out of the rat race, inspired by the writings of Helen and Scott Nearing – namely, Living The Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. The Colemans visit the Nearings and end up purchasing from them sixty acres of land adjacent to (and formerly part of) Helen and Scott’s property, in order to start their own homestead. The Colemans are full of optimism and drive, determined to make a living the old-fashioned way, by the sweat of their brows and strength of their convictions.
It is a beautiful life for a while, with baby Melissa making her appearance, and then sisters Heidi and Clara, with an influx of apprentices to help with the work and bring a little social atmosphere to the little farm in Maine. Melissa’s father Eliot is never satisfied, however, and it is his continual push for greater success and recognition, and his desire to educate others, that begins the unraveling of the fabric of the Colemans’ lives. On top of growing stress comes family tragedy, and instead of rallying together, they drift further apart – to the detriment of young Melissa.
This is not a flattering portrait of Eliot and Sue Coleman, but it is a testament to the strength and resilience of the author, who has managed to make a happy life for herself despite these early deficiencies and disappointments. She has told her story with honesty and frankness, showing the reader her emotional responses to her situation, even when she is not proud of them.
It is clear that she does not seek pity, nor desire to make herself out the blameless hero of the book. She earned my respect and sympathy by virtue of her balanced and just account of the events of her life, and because she retold them with obvious skill and grace. Ms. Coleman is a talented writer, and apparently a well-adjusted individual.
This book serves as a cautionary tale of marriage and family, as well as the danger of trying to do too much. It is also simply a story of the land and how we, as modern humans, can get back in touch with it and find our place in the natural world – not apart from it, but living in harmony with nature and each other, and remembering to maintain balance in our lives.
I found myself lost in This Life Is in Your Hands for hours at a time, unwilling to put it aside. It was well worth those hours, even with all the sadness. I highly recommend it.(less)
Scott Jurek co-authored this with a writer named Steve Friedman. I think it’s commendable to recognize where your strengths lie and where they do not,...moreScott Jurek co-authored this with a writer named Steve Friedman. I think it’s commendable to recognize where your strengths lie and where they do not, and to ask for assistance in order to make your final product the best it can be. They both wanted this to be a good book, and between the two of them, they made that happen.
What was surprising to me was how well-rounded of a person Scott Jurek seems to be. This book really shows just how much thought he has put into every aspect of his life. He discusses the factors that led him to adopt a vegan diet, and all the doubts and criticisms he has experienced along the way. He is honest about his motivations and concerns about his health, and includes useful information that he has discovered in his research. The book is well-cited, with an extensive list of sources at the end. He does not make any claims that he cannot back up.
Jurek emphasizes the importance of a healthy mind when running extreme distances. He talks about meditation and self-discipline, and makes it clear that this can be a lonely sport. He stresses how helpful it is to make connections with other involved in the sport, so that it doesn’t become a lonely life. He walks the walk by camping out at finish lines after completing races, in order to congratulate and support other runners. This attitude has probably been crucial in forming a community in a sport mainly comprised of lone wolves.
This book shows the pitfalls of such zealous dedication to a lifestyle, as well as the rewards. Without any appeals for sympathy, the author tells of the failure of his first marriage and his misgivings about spending so much time away from his ill mother. He also learns just how double-edged success can be, when he nearly loses his best friend to envy and misunderstanding. Jurek’s chosen career affected every aspect of his life, and I was moved to read about his thoughts and how he handled those consequences with grace and humility.
Ostensibly, this is a book about running, and it is quite inspiring in that regard alone. The list of races in the back of the book showing Jurek’s times and new records set is not just impressive, but truly amazing. Eat and Run is about more than running, however; it is a story about a man with remarkable courage and passion, and I enjoyed it very much.(less)
This was well-written enough to warrant 4 stars, but I just didn't enjoy it that much. The author does not portray herself in a way that garners much...moreThis was well-written enough to warrant 4 stars, but I just didn't enjoy it that much. The author does not portray herself in a way that garners much sympathy, and somehow manages to go for pages and pages without mentioning the man who got her into farming and with whom she claims to be madly in love. The whole book is meant to be a dual love story, love of the man and of the farm; the man, however, seems to be a minor character, which was disappointing, since I found him to be quite likable and intriguing.
This book was absolutely interesting and entertaining, and I quite enjoyed the information and anecdotes about the plants and the cultivation of the land. On the other hand, while this might have been eye-opening to some, it was difficult for me (being vegan) to stomach reading about the callousness and various cruelties that go along with animal farming, most of which I was already too aware of, and which I didn't enjoy revisiting.
While I can see how perhaps reading about these things in such graphic detail might provoke some readers to reconsider the systems that they take for granted or don't look too closely at, it's frustrating to read about someone learning of these practices and gamely participating in them despite their initial revulsion or reservations (especially someone who claims to have previously been a vegetarian).
I'm not trying to preach here, and I realize I'm coming from a place of rather fringe sentiment, but my veganism is an important part of my life, and thus is a huge part of what I bring to the table when I read any book. It wouldn't feel right to talk about this book and omit my most fundamental reactions to it.
The "yes, it's actually a bit awful, but that's the way things are" mentality saddens me, since I know it's not the way things must be. The couple in this book do all sorts of zany, off-beat, retro things to go back to a simpler way of being and to attempt to provide a "full diet" for their CSA customers... which, unfortunately, they see as necessarily including a large quantity of various meats and other animal products.
So, while this book was in many ways about overturning a status quo or two, there are also some threads woven through the book that are strongly supporting (unwittingly or not) a very different kind of status quo.
I did not write this to start an argument or to proselytize. This is just my honest reaction to the book, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to review it, what I should say about it and just how to put it. I've done my best.(less)
What a crazy past this guy had. I'd almost think he made it up, if his brother's book didn't corroborate his story. It was such an entertaining read,...moreWhat a crazy past this guy had. I'd almost think he made it up, if his brother's book didn't corroborate his story. It was such an entertaining read, though, that it went very quickly. He has a very fast-paced and funny style that I enjoyed quite a bit. I'll try out another of his books at some point.(less)
It was, essentially, an incessant refrain of "I don't like doing this, why am I doing this? I should leave, but...moreThis book was an onslaught of whining.
It was, essentially, an incessant refrain of "I don't like doing this, why am I doing this? I should leave, but I'm too chicken to leave. This is making me unhappy. I hate this. I'm going to keep doing it anyway."
There were interesting facts about raising sheep and their various quirks, as well as a handful of other animals, which made it readable.
The author was clearly a fish out of water throughout the whole book, going along with her partner's "dream" of owning a farm, reluctant to follow her own desires for fear of trampling those of her partner. Eventually the two women struck a balance, but not until much later than I would have preferred.
Oh, and yes, I noticed that the author and her partner were two women in a romantic relationship. There is no need to point out the fact that you are a lesbian every couple of chapters, Ms. Friend. It's really not a big deal. I got a bit tired of this routine - I'd just be getting interested in the story, the two women would have gone through something particularly dramatic and I would be feeling a bit sympathetic for the both of them, and then the chapter would end with something like, "Then, exhausted, we went to bed...together. In the same bed... because we're lesbians." Yep, I got it, and I don't understand why you're reminding me, because it just doesn't seem that crucial to the story.
Mostly, though, I could not get over the constant complaining. I nearly didn't finish the book due to that irritation. Perhaps I was inspired by the author, struggling on, insisting on continuing to do something I clearly wasn't enjoying, just like her. At least reading a book I didn't like wasn't equivalent to embracing a lifestyle utterly in conflict with my nature... also, I didn't grouse about it once, that is, until I wrote this review (which is more than I can say for Ms. Friend).
There are many, many superior books on amateur farming out there (perhaps even the ones by Noel Perrin), books that are funnier and with more endearing protagonists. I suggest you read those instead.(less)
This was really enjoyable. It was very easy to root for the criminal in this book - anyone that clever deserves a lot of credit, and he was really jus...moreThis was really enjoyable. It was very easy to root for the criminal in this book - anyone that clever deserves a lot of credit, and he was really just so likable. (less)
I have a real problem with this book being called fiction. There is no secret that this is based on her family - she uses pseudonyms for herself and h...moreI have a real problem with this book being called fiction. There is no secret that this is based on her family - she uses pseudonyms for herself and her siblings, barely disguised alterations of their real names. It is clearly a book of stories about her own childhood and about real people, and yet the copyright page flatly denies this.
"This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental."
Pardon me, but that's complete bullshit.
Sometimes this felt more like a list of things the children did than an actual narrative. When there was real narrative, it was less than impressive. At times, it wasn't any better than any elementary school student's "What I Did Last Summer" essay, but occasionally it did rise up into high school or college level writing.
I think maybe I was intended to feel nostalgic at the end of the book, or wistful, or something like that, but this book stirred no emotions within me at all (other than boredom, if that counts).
Just when an event or a character started to become interesting, the author switched to another situation or ended the chapter.
I never felt like I knew who any of the children really were - I felt that they were meant to be the main characters, and yet there was zero development, no insight as to their personalities, not even that of the (sometimes) narrator.
I guess maybe I should have been less optimistic about a book a review from Vogue magazine in bold on the back cover.
Bottom line: disappointing read, not worth the little time and effort spent on it.(less)
while it's mostly well-written, it's a little jumpy and hard to follow chronologically. the author puts different events together in ways that probabl...morewhile it's mostly well-written, it's a little jumpy and hard to follow chronologically. the author puts different events together in ways that probably make sense according to her own emotional connection to the circumstances, but this detracts from the natural flow of time for the reader.
early on, the author awkwardly inserts little statements that aren't exactly foreshadowing, but more like hints about several disasters that will soon befall her husband and herself. it seems like a cheap way to try to keep the reader interested, especially because it doesn't happen naturally.
the third aspect of the author's writing that does not impress me is the constant use of similes. they seem to be her crutch, and there are far too many of them. it seems like an effort to make her writing seem more poetic and meaningful, but i'm not falling for it.
i was not aware, somehow, that this was going to be some sort of christian inspirational book. i almost put the book down during the prologue because of the number of times the author used the word faith and then spoke about divine intervention. she continues, throughout the first part of the book, to inject a little evangelism every now and then, just when i thought i was about to enjoy myself. she seems to have a penchant for leaving the really big decisions in life up to god's will, and attributing any gut feeling she has about anything not to her own intuition, but to god telling her what to do. any time a situation gets a bit much for her, or there is a stumbling block to what she wants, she'd much rather pray to god to fix it for her, instead of pushing up her sleeves and taking care of it herself. this makes me think that not only is she a little too bible-thumping for my taste, she's also a little bit of a pansy. this is further confirmed with her statement regarding the parcel of land she and her husband were looking to buy:
"I had secretly hoped they [the owners] wouldn't sell. It was such a very long way from my manicurist."
if that is sarcasm or some attempt at dry humor, it's the only example of it i've run across so far. any thought that she might have been joking disappeared when the author's friend told her that she had initially wanted to tell the author not to move out to the remote area they had chosen, because she couldn't imagine "...you with your fake nails out there in the sagebrush."
normally, i only enjoy a book if i feel a connection with or at least some sort of positive feelings for the protagonist or the narrator. there have been exceptions, but this really isn't one. the author does become more tolerable towards the end of the book, because her experiences on the homestead inevitably have their effect on her personality. she does eventually give up on having a manicure at all times. all in all, it wasn't a terrible book, but i won't be reading it again or recommending it to anyone.(less)
This was pleasant enough... but I wasn't getting anything out of it that I hadn't previously heard/read/known, so I didn't make it far at all before I...moreThis was pleasant enough... but I wasn't getting anything out of it that I hadn't previously heard/read/known, so I didn't make it far at all before I just stopped reading it and eventually had to return it to the library. I thought this was going to be more about Ellen, anyway; not her mother's autobiography and a continuous reassurance of how very accepting and supportive she is of her daughter's sexuality. That's lovely and all, really it is, but I got that from the first 10 pages or so. This book could very easily have been just an article. The ideal audience for this would be parents who aren't accepting and supportive of their gay children, but are they really going to read it? Probably not, unless someone puts a gun to their head. There's not much to learn from this book or really take away from it if you're already someone who's just fine and dandy with homosexuality... This makes it, unfortunately, a bit of a Catch-22.(less)