Harper Perennial, 2009
My rating: 3.5 stars
This book chronicles Perry’s adventures into the world of livestock and farming—including the challenge of building his own chicken coop—but it is really about so much more. It is about the challenges of creating a blended family, the stress that happens when your wife tells you she plans on giving birth at home, the joys and tribulations of homeschooling, dealing with the unexpected death of friends and family, and realizing how your childhood informs and affects your life as a grown-up.
Perry came from a family that was far from conventional. Besides being raised in an “obscure fundamentalist Christian sect,” Perry’s parents cared for more than 60 foster children—many with developmental disabilities. His recollections of family life and the challenges his parents faced to support such a large family while working an oftentimes struggling farm are interwoven throughout Perry’s account of his present day life—creating two parallel story lines that describe Perry’s childhood and his present-day quest to define himself as a father, husband and man.
At the same time, the book is often very amusing. Although Perry grew up on a farm, he isn’t necessarily the farmer type. His account of his struggle to build his own chicken coop or the antics of his pigs are simultaneously informative and amusing. (The story of Little Miss Shake-N-Bake, one of their laying chickens, could easily be turned into a delightful children’s book … minus her tragic end, of course.) However, I most related to his experiences as a father—the difficulties of punishing a good kid, the challenges of a newborn, the joys of working side-by-side with your child on a project. Perry does a brilliant job of capturing the ups and downs of parenthood in a way that was always relatable and genuine. One part that particularly stood out for me was when Perry writes about the process of naming their new child as it so closely echoed my own experiences:
There is also the matter of naming the child. We’ve been waffling for months. While Anneliese does her best to invest the decision with spirituality and ancestral reverence, I am largely concerned with scansion and assonance and the potential for naughty playground rhymes. Furthermore, it has always seemed to me that a child’s name should be reducible to one crisp syllable for what I call the “freeze-factor,” to be used when you wish to arrest the progress of the child in a precipitous manner, like when he is about to stick his fingers in the fan or she is sneaking out the bedroom window, in which case you want a name you can crack like a whip. “Pollyanna!” for instance, has no freeze factor. It got to be a bedtime game, the name list: Anneliese would read her latest choices, and one by one I would bat them down. Then she would do the same for me. There were some doozies, but I will not reveal the rejected list of monikers, because somewhere out there is someone else who dreams of naming a child Ezekiel Storm. Zeke! (I practiced.) On day five or six of our young child’s life it becomes a matter of some embarrassment, and so we take the form the government provides, and—in honor of a family member—write “Jane.” Then I try it out: “Jane!” The kid doesn’t flinch.
My only real quibble with the book is that I had a difficult time adapting to its rhythms at first. Perry’s writing style is a bit meandering. He moves back and forth between his childhood and his present-day life with little transition. At first, I found this a bit off-putting. But once I got further into the book, I settled in to the narrative flow and just ambled along with Perry wherever he decided to go. He has as pleasant, conversational writing style, and it begins to feel like you’re taking a walk with a friend who has lots of stories to tell. At one point, he’ll be telling you about how the progress of his chicken coop, but that will remind him of trips to the feed store with his dad when he was young. Or the news that an old friend passed away will lead to reminisces of the times they spent together growing up. My suggestion is just to settle in and enjoy this ramble throughout Perry’s life because you’ll find moments both big and small that will warm your heart or make it ache.
About the Author
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 Salon.com, 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,www.sneezingcow.com
The Whys and Wheres
I received my review copy of this book from Harper Perennial as part of a TLC Book Tours. Thank you to Trish from TLC Book Tours for this opportunity. If you would like to visit some of the other stops on the book tour for Coop, here are the links and the dates of each stop.
In addition, Michael Perry will be on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl on Monday, June 7th at 7pm EST.
Tour Stops Completed:
- 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 2ed: Book-a-rama
- Thursday, June 3rd: Book Club Classics!
Upcoming Tour Stops:
To find out what other book bloggers are saying about this book or author, visit the Book Blogs Search Engine.