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One Book One Marin: Farm City & The Dangerous Side part II

OBOMpigsForgive the dereliction of duty–it’s been longer than intended since my last post for our One Book One Marin pick. Continuing on with the theme of the dangerous–or more painful–side of farming, we come to the fate of Big Guy and Little Girl.

Novella Carpenter does a wonderful job of pulling us in; she takes us from the beginning of her pig-raising adventure at the 4-H auction where she acquires Big Guy and Little Girl, to her various dumpster-diving forays in order to satiate the pigs’ voracious appetites. We follow Big Guy as he breaks free more than once from his pen to trot his ways towards a busy intersection, only to eventually be corralled back to his pen by helpful neighbors. In short, we laugh, snort, and begin to enjoy the pigs just as Novella does the same.

At the same time, Novella never ceases to remind herself (or us) that the pigs are, ultimately, for eating. Her musings on what pieces of the pig will make for what cut of meat, as well as what type of food to feed the pigs for the best flavor, remain matter-of-fact and unsentimental. She doesn’t kid us with sappy affection; this is a tough, urban-farming woman who’s trying  to raise her own dinner.

Still, one of the most difficult parts of the book to read occurs when we witness the cruel, rather blatant disregard with which Sheila, the butcher, treats Big Guy and Little Girl’s last few remaining moments. We know that Novella is incredibly interested in being through as much of the process of pig-butchering as possible; we know that she had planned to ask Sheila a number of questions related to the process. We know that she wanted to find the most humane,  respectful way to kill the pigs because she’s a decent person with a heart. In short, we know that this moment, after months of raising the pigs (which took an enormous amount of sweat and dedication), was incredibly important and meaningful to Novella. And then blonde-haired, impossible-to-reach Sheila dashes all her hopes with one careless hack job. My sympathy went out more towards the pigs, whose last moments I couldn’t and didn’t want to imagine–they had so trustingly piled off of Novella’s truck and into the cold warehouse, than Novella. I was glad though, to see the rage that Novella expressed upon learning of Sheila’s actions. I was also glad that throughout her whole pig-raising experience, but particularly in the post-butchering phase, Novella seemed appreciative of her pigs.

Novella’s Farm City experiences demonstrate just how much of a difference raising and appreciating one’s own food can make. Big Guy and Little Girl definitely contributed to Novella’s farming education. Through her pigs, Novella learnt a great deal about raising and butchering pigs; she gained an apprenticeship and friendship with a master chef through both of them; and she finally got to taste the work of her labor. We can see that urban farming can not only be difficult, it can be downright painful. It’s not a clean, glorious, easy feat; it’s a constantly evolving, fascinating struggle. It’s also an art.  We meet masters of the craft (the restaurant owner Chris Lee, City Slicker Farms’ Willow, and more) who clearly love what they do. What makes them, and Novella, stand out is the respect, knowledge, and admiration they share for their craft. They are all committed to understanding where their food comes from, and they all choose to be an active part of growing and preparing their food, rather than passive bystanders.  Novella’s experiences in Farm City show us a different approach to interacting with the natural world and understanding our place within it. A little more self-sufficiency could probably benefit all of us a great deal; we’ve just got to be willing to get a little bit dirty to do it.

 

 

Book Club Picks

housekeepercoverCurrently in a book club and looking for titles to propose at your next meeting? Interested in finding multiple copies of a well-written, discussion worthy book but looking for a less formal option than our book club kits? We’ve got you covered with our Book Club Picks Collection!

We’re offering multiple copies of titles hand-selected by and featured in our two library book clubs. Books check out for the regular 3-week period, and can be requested by calling the reference desk (415) 389-4292 x3. Or, you can simply stop by and check them out in person!

Our current list of offerings (alphabetical by title):

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka – 5 copies

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway – 6 copies

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa – 5 copies

Kindred by Octavia Butler – 6 copies

Love, Anger, Madness by Marie Vieux-Chauvet – 11 copies

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – 9 copies

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones – 8 copies

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham – 10 copies

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin – 9 copies

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid – 10 copies

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie – 4 copies

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates – 6 copies

The Secret River by Kate Grenville – 6 copies

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar – 6 copies

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 6 copies

Tracks by Louise Erdrich – 5 copies

Typical American by Gish Jen – 6 copies

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li – 9 copies

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – 5 copies

One Book One Marin: Farm City & the Dangerous Side of Farming

sb10067340d-001Howdy One Book One Marinians! Today we’re focusing on the less-glamorous, riskier side of Novella Carpenter’s urban farming experience. Namely, bee keeping and pig-raising. (Actually, we’ll look at the pig-raising experience next blog entry.)

I don’t think any of us would deny that Novella is a rather intrepid farmer. She remains brave in the face of potential bee-keeping hazards including bee stings, complaining neighbors, and the death of the hive. Her awe and delight at beekeeping and the goodies that it brings, not to mention her admiration for the bees, is palpable. Thus, I found the chapter on the death of her hive to be all the more moving; it’s clearly not a trivial loss. “I left the empty hive on the deck, another failure. The smell of smoke clung to my clothes for the rest of the day.” (111) Novella makes the deliberate choice to describe the death of the bee colony with the sound of sirens, the police invasion, the discovery of peach trees, and the memory of watching a beekeeping movie  in Slovenia with her mother. While the beekeeper dies in the movie rather than the bees, the various waves of loss that Novella reflects on make for a fairly heavy mood. This is one of a few moments in the book where the rather casual, humorous style that Novella imparts suddenly gives way to a gentler, deeper sadness. In fact, the entirety of chapter thirteen seems to be a meditation on loss. Novella loses her hive, the police take away whatever was being held in the warehouse, the beekeeper in the Slovenian movie dies. While one could look at Novella’s discovery of the peach trees as a positive, affirming glimmer of hope on an otherwise mournful day, her tree observation also adds to the lamentable bee loss–all of the beautiful blossoms on the trees are in need of a good pollination party, which her bees can no longer provide. The pain of spending so much time, sweat, determination, and dedication taking care of (as well as forming a personal bond with) other living organisms which eventually or suddenly die can be brutal and devastating–even if it seems like a small loss to those on the outside.

One Book One Marin: Farm City–The Act of Sharing

folk and roots fest 08One of the most salient points in Novella’s story so far is her observation (or rather, her recounting of Willow’s observation) that, “to be a farmer…was to share.” (p.62) I tend to think of farming, even urban farming, as a rather solitary profession–a lone farmer working away for hours on end in his or her field surrounded by crops and soil. There’s the appeal (which Novella herself contemplates) of farming to become self-sufficient; farming to provide for yourself so you aren’t dependent on someone or something else. Perhaps I’ve romanticized that notion of self-sufficiency at the cost of ignoring what might be an even more powerful aspect of urban farming (is this applicable to all forms of farming?): the back and forth exchange of knowledge and sharing.

The growing, harvesting, preparing, making, and eating of food is such a social affair that it would be wrong to ignore the community it fosters. We have social clubs who gather together to eat, we meet friends for brunch or dinner, when visiting a family member or friend’s house many of us abide by the custom of bringing something (food or drink) to share just as a good number of hosts provide some sort of nourishment for the guests…Cultures all over the world bond and connect through food and part of the beauty of urban farming, Novella shows us, is in the power of connecting with yourself and your neighbors on a more rooted (forgive the pun) level–by involving them in the process of growing, harvesting, and making your own food. In Novella’s case, her farm provides the impetus for forging friendships with some of her quirky neighbors, and exploring (and feeling connected to) her larger Oakland neighborhood. As Willow’s pizza offering demonstrates, farming is meant to be shared; harvesting a bounty of fresh food allows you to share what you have, knowing it’s (hopefully) sustainable and repeatable, and chances are, you’ll end up growing more than you need. Tips and tools are traded, seeds and saved and given out, pleasantries exchanged, woes and miseries are shared; along with the exchanging of physical nourishment, urban farming allows for an exchange of knowledge and a chance to learn. 

 

One Book One Marin: Farm City part 1

OBOMoaklandshipyardWe’re just about 3 weeks into our 3-month long One Book One Marin program for 2014, and I hope a few if not all of you have had the chance to check out Novella Carpenter’s book, Farm City. Novella touches on some of Oakland’s history; she briefly mentions the influx of African American residents who came to Oakland in the early 1920s to work on the railroads and in the shipping yards. I thought it might be interesting to know just a bit more about the city, so below is a slightly more in-depth, brief account of Oakland’s transportation and horticultural history.

Around 1868, Oakland became the western terminus of the transcontinental Central Pacific Railroads. As the railroad brought an influx of jobs and residents into Oakland, the city’s waterfront began its own expansion: shipyards grew in prominence and by World War I, government contracts helped major shipbuilding companies to employ thousands of workers to help build tankers and freighters. “By the mid-1930s, Oakland was a port of call for 40 world shipping lines.” (The Spirit of Oakland, p.19) Major shipyards were called on once again to produce hundred of combat vessels during World War II. 

Oakland also has a historical connection to agriculture and farming: Fruit Vale started as an orchard of 700 Bing cherry trees planted in 1856 by a German immigrant, Henderson Luelling. Fruit farms sprang up across the Oakland foothills, and “Fruit Vale was considered a major fruit-growing center.” (The Spirit of Oakland, p.107) Elaborate 19th-century gardens created a beautiful ring around Lake Merritt, and commercial nurseries shipped flowers (via the railroad, then ferry) over to San Francisco. Oakland’s Municipal Rose Garden was established in  the 1930s held a “Rose Sunday” viewing every Mother’s Day when the roses were in bloom. In 1936, 25,000 people attended Rose Sunday. (The Spirit of Oakland, p.107) The name of the garden was later changed to Morcom Rose Garden.

Source: The Spirit of Oakland: an Anthology ed. by Abby Wasserman, Heritage Media Corporation, 2000.

One Book One Marin 2014: Farm City

OBOMfarmcityIt’s the beginning of our annual Marin community-wide book club event: One Book One Marin 2014. The idea behind One Book One Marin is to encourage members of the community to come together by reading and discussing a single book. This year’s pick is Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmera charming, humorous, and inspiring true story of a Seattle transplant who moves to Oakland and experiences both the frustrations and pleasures of establishing an edible garden and farm (complete with livestock) in the midst of the city. You can check out Novella Carpenter’s blog, Ghost Town Farm, to catch up on her latest urban farming adventures.

One Book One Marin officially starts with a launch party and author reading at the lovely Book Passage in Corte Madera on Tuesday, February 11th at 7pm.  The program will run through March and culminate in a final celebration at Dominican University in San Rafael, where Novella Carpenter will join Michael Krasny of KQED fame for an insightful interview. The Dominican University event will happen on Wednesday, April 30th, at 7pm.

In the meantime, we encourage you to check out this blog (as your favorite librarian(s) will chronicle their thoughts about the book, and to check out and attend some truly marvelous programming at the participating public libraries throughout Marin. Our own Mill Valley Library will host a book discussion for any interested readers on Monday, March 10th at 7pm. Come one, come all! Check out the schedule of programs (it looks like the final listing of events will be published on the website shortly), pick up your copy, and join us for a community-wide book club extravaganza!

Staff Picks: Best Books of 2013

bestof2013Mill Valley Public Library Staff Picks: Our Favorite Books, DVDs, and Music from 2013

BOOKS

(alphabetical by author)

MUSIC

   DVDs

Nelson Mandela: a Reading List

Rolihlahla “Nelson” Mandela, former president of South Africa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, philanthropist, and admired political and civil rights activist, died last week on December 5th at the age of 95. In his memory, we’ve created a list of books for those interested in learning more about his life and South Africa’s tumultuous history.

Books on Nelson Mandela, the History of South Africa, and Apartheid

 Mandela in his own words:

 Biographies of Nelson Mandela:

South African History:

South African Apartheid:

 

National Book Award 2013 Winners Announced!

The illustrious National Book Awards announced this year’s winners yesterday (Wednesay, Nov. 20th, 2013). A delighted James Mcbride accepted the award in the fiction category for his novel, The Good Lord Bird. Mcbride’s novel centers around the memoirs of a young slave who attempts to avoid danger during pre-Civil War instability and ends up meeting John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass. Fellow nominees in the fiction category included Rachel Kushner, Jhumpa Lahiri, Thomas Pynchon, and George Saunders.

The Good Lord Bird has garnered quite a bit of praise from various reviewers; Booklist gave the novel a starred review, noting, “dramatizing Brown’s pursuit of racial freedom and insane belief in his own divine infallibility through the eyes of a child fearful of becoming a man, McBride (Song Yet Sung) presents a sizzling historical novel that is an evocative escapade and a provocative pastiche of Larry McMurtry’s salty western satires and William Styron’s seminal insurrection masterpiece, The Confessions of Nat Turner” and the New York Times wrote a review back in August declaring, “McBride — with the same flair for historical mining, musicality of voice and outsize characterization that made his memoir, The Color of Water, an instant classic — pulls off his portrait masterfully, like a modern-day Mark Twain: evoking sheer glee with every page.”

In the non-fiction category, the award went to George Packer for his book, The Unwinding: an Inner History of the New America. Told through the perspective of four different American citizens (a North Carolinian small businessman, an Ohio factory worker, a wealthy billionaire, and a political aide working in Washington D.C.), Packer explores the last forty years of America’s social conditions. The Guardian review praised the novel, saying, “it is a testament to Packer’s talents that The Unwinding is powerful, rather than off-puttingly earnest or just depressing, and that it lingers so long after reading.”

The National Book Award for poetry went to Mary Szybist for her collection of poems, Incarnadine. For a sampling of her poetry and a brief biography, visit the Poetry Foundation’s page on Mary Szybist.

November Novel Writing

November is National Novel Writing Month! Affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, writers are encouraged to sign up and track their progress, effectively joining a social network of other writers.The NaNoWriMo organization describes the program as: “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.”
For most of us, our lives are a bit too busy to take on the daunting (though possibly exhilarating) task of writing a novel in a mere month, or several months, or even years. So rather than sitting huddled in a dark room, curtains pulled shut to avoid any sliver of light that might pierce your computer-screen-burned retinas, and hardly eating due to weighty feelings of being an abject disappointment and failure… I invite you to take on a more manageable goal, should you wish to pursue a writing endeavor at all. Instead of National Novel Writing Month, why not challenge yourself to National Short Story Writing Month? (To be fair, National Short Story Month is apparently in May, but who says you can’t repeat a good thing?)
Five books on the craft of writing, should you need a muse or two:
While some writers scoff at the notion of short stories, I’d argue that short stories can be just as memorable and powerful as a full length novel when done well. You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “masters of the short story” whispered in the same sentence as names like John Cheever, James Joyce, Alice Munro, William Trevor, and Raymond Carver. Set them aside for this month. Read them, by all means, but don’t attempt to be the next Flannery O’Connor. Try to put some of your genuine self into a story, and write your way to something new, strange, and perhaps worth keeping.

~Ali