Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball

I didn't think I'd ever write a controversial review on a farming book, but I'm afraid that's what I'm about to do. It has nothing to do with the farming in the book. In fact, that part of the book I absolutely LOVED. I listened to this book on audio and despite Kimball's repetitive reminders that farming is not easy work, it still left me wanting that hard life some day. She paints a very honest picture of owning and running a farm and it sounds dreadful at times, but it also sounds like the most rewarding work a person can do and I loved that so much.

Kristin Kimball lived in New York city before moving to a farm once she met her future husband, Mark. Kimball was very cosmopolitan, surrounding herself with designer dresses, enjoying the night life of NYC and priding herself on her excellent little loft apartment in the city. As a journalist, she drove down to meet Mark who was a farmer and lived on the land and had an extremely different life from hers and it was love at first sight. I did LOVE this transformation that took over Kimball and I appreciated how difficult the transformation was for her. I've learned recently myself how difficult any life transformation can be. But I had a problem with much of what she had to say around this part of the book.

When she described Mark for the reader, she described him as a "real man". And how she wishes every woman had the chance to have a "real man" in her life. One that's used to hard work, has never done drugs, never slept around, etc. etc. I was SO bothered with this statement. All those things don't make a real man. Or I should say a "real man" can be someone who has done all of those things. I hate statements like that. I've done drugs in my past...had a problem with them either. I have days where I don't want to do anything close to hard work. I've never slept around, but I know plenty of men who have that I would consider amazing men. There were other statements of privilege and entitlement she made too...once referring to a crazy pigeon lady in New York or something similar to that. She doesn't know what that homeless woman had been through or if she was mentally ill.

I couldn't help but compare this book with Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The plot is essentially the same. Both authors aimed to live off of what they grew, to stop relying on the disgusting system that our food source has become and changed their lives significantly to do so. There's a difference between the two books though. Kingsolver's book was educational, inspirational, a guide almost, a tool of philosophy. I felt like The Dirty Life was almost a "look what I did" book. And honestly, that's fine...she does say in the title that it's a memoir. So it is a story of what they did and how they did it. But there is a certain air of arrogance that I seemed to pick up on and maybe that's just because of a few things that bothered me.

I will say though that despite what I've said here (and I know I've made it sound like I hated this book), I actually really enjoyed it overall. I've just chosen to focus on the bits that really bothered me because they REALLY bothered me. Kimball does do a wonderful job of portraying honestly how hard this was for her. How farming nearly ruined her relationship with her husband, nearly broke her down, but at the same time was the most rewarding thing she's ever done and it made me want to go to bed every night covered in dirt and manure too after an 18 hour work day. And any book that can do that to a person certainly has to have some type of redeeming quality.


Jeane said...

I read and enjoyed this. Funny, those things that bothered you didn't jump out at me so much. I guess I just assumed that when she said "a real man" she meant the kind of man that attracted her. Which of course isn't everyone's critera of what makes a man "real" (whatever that's supposed to mean).

Beth F said...

I usually love "moving to the country" memoirs but I think her definition of a real man would have driven me crazy too. Jeez. I hadn't heard of this one before, but I'm adding to my list (despite the man thing).

DesLily said...

I guess everyone has their own meaning to the words "real man". mine would be someone who cares about me, makes me laugh, and holds me up thru rough times. So there you have it... and the funny thing is..that would also describe a "real friend". so, don't let it upset two people are exactly alike.

farming always meant something to me too, when I was young and had the strength to do it. the problem is all my animals would have names and I'd have to become a vegatarian... and I'm not sure I could do that lol.

I will be happier for you by far when you have a home with a garden and an extra freezer ! :o)

Susan said...

I really enjoyed your review, Chris. As I have this book on my TBR pile and read the first two chapters in the store before I bought it, I think I will enjoy it despite the 'real' man thing. I'm going to be very curious how I respond to this book when I read it.

I've often thought that I would enjoy a life of farming, on both sides - my mothers and fathers - there are plenty of farmers, and I spent summers on my uncle's farm outside London (Ontario). I think if I could drive a car, I'd live out in the country now! Whether I'd be a farmer or not, I don't know. I'm curious to read this book too to see if farming has changed much, and how she finds it.

I love the idea of being self-sustaining, too. I have to pick up Barbara Kingsolver's book too.

Debi said...

I've had this one on the shelves for months now, but haven't read it. Not sure I want to now. :( The "real man" thing already irks me. Yes, it is perfectly okay for her to want a man like that. To each his own, right. But to have her wishing that all woman have the chance to have a man like that...ugh. Her definition of a "real man" is NOT my definition of a real man (which would be: anyone who feels they are a man), and I don't need her wishing anything for me, thank you very much. I can definitely see why this bothered you!!! Hmmm...wonder if that means I'm not a "real woman" since I've done drugs in my past and I slept around too. :P Hey, maybe we can be "not real" together! :P
*sigh* Okay, I know you said you really did enjoy the book overall...and perhaps that's enough to make me still read it someday. But I'm feeling pissy right now so I think I'll save it for much later.

Carl V. said...

It is funny because I didn't pick up on any of those things when I read the book earlier this year (didn't review it...bad me!) but I can immediately recall them as you point them out. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt with this sort of thing and assume in her case that she was doing more comparison to the type of guys she previously dated and not so much saying things about the male race as a whole. The problem is that at the very least an editor should have picked up on this stuff and helped her make her point without doing exactly what you point out: making her sound elitist and/or narrow-minded.

I did enjoy the book very much. It didn't wrap itself around my heart and make me want to farm in the way that Sallyann J. Murphy's book Bean Blossom Dreams did (still one of my absolute favorite books ever) but it was a very, very good book and one I would recommend.

Great review Chris.