Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Farmville Files: Living The Dirty Life

photograph by Deborah Feingold

One of the most fascinating narratives of this fall's season of new books is the long-awaited emergence of Mark Twain's unexpurgated autobiography; I've thought again of the Hannibal, Missouri native this morning, as I received suggestions to visit NPR's interview with Kristin Kimball, author of The Dirty Life.

Just under 150 years ago, Mr. Twain helped found the literary sub-genre we know call "travel writing," with his Innocents Abroad. Flashing forward to this season's publishing cycle, we have the chance to encounter Ms. Kimball and her own narrative of traveling upstate from the high-culture and high-couture world of New York City's East Village to interview an enterprising young farmer. The story she relates in The Dirty Life is one of unlikely matches, as the city girl falls in love with the organic farmer and, in the process, discovers the poetry and vitality of agrarian life. 

Of course, these "back to the land" narratives, coupled with books on urban-hipsters and their rural arts, now offer a kind of romance and escape just as commercially viable as Mr. Twain's genre of travel writing (indeed, Ms. Kimball began as a travel writer). If you're reading this from a computer screen somewhere in rural America, or if you number among our country's rural diaspora, your reaction to this recent trend may fall somewhere on a sliding scale between hopeful optimism and downright cynicism.

The difference here, with Ms. Kimball's book, seems to be her honesty and her sense of perspective--how the back-breaking, never-ending work of running a 500 acre CSA is also profoundly satisfying and life-affirming. 

NPR's interview with Ms. Kimball, and an audio-slide of Essex Farms, can be found here.