Thursday, November 14, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Nothing That Eats

I don't get to read for pleasure as much as I'd like these days, so I was glad to have the opportunity to review At Home In Dogwood Mudhole: Nothing That Eats by Franklin Sanders. After I read the sample chapter (take a look here) I was looking forward to it! I received a paperback copy to read.

Mr. Sanders is a proud Southerner, born and raised in Tennessee, and passionate about Southern history and heritage. He and his family made the move to a farm in Dogwood Mudhole in 1999, in preparation for the potential and predicted end of the world as we knew it when Y2K hit. This book is the first in a trilogy, a compilation of newsletters he's written for subscribers to his monthly publication for his business, The Moneychanger. The book  is 379 pages long, and is divided into four sections: "Leaving Memphis Five Miles at a Time," "Living in the Country Changes You," "Learning Curve,"  and "A Real Farm." Within each section, the newsletters are dated and titled.

In this first book, I journeyed with his family as they left Memphis and moved to their farm. They began as a one nuclear family, Franklin and Susan and their seven children, which then grew with marriages and grandchildren. Mr. Sanders shares his faith in God and love for his wife and family unashamedly. He also shares contact information on business he likes, particularly local restaurants and such he's visited and enjoyed while traveling.Although they started out their life on their farm insisting they would get "nothing that eats," they somehow acquired chickens, horses, cattle, pigs, and sheep, and lots of dogs.

I had a hard time getting into this book in the beginning. Mr. Sanders wrote a lot about his passion for Southern history, particularly centered on the Civil War (which he calls the War for Southern Independence). I found myself wanting very much to argue with him, actually, about quite a lot of things. However, I enjoyed being challenged by what he wrote, and appreciated this passage:
"I thought I knew a lot about Southern culture and history when I started down this road. I had a college education and several years of graduate school. In fact, I didn't know anything much worth knowing, and have to throttle back my anger over what I was never taught, the history and wisdom of statesmen and of keen students of human nature and values of love and family and eternal things and of the painful, prickly truth at all costs. The value of tasting and loving, instead of gobbling your way through." (p. 22)
I was reminded of an American history course I took in college, in which my professor told us that history is subjective. How could that be, I wondered? Isn't history simply presentation of facts? Oh, how little I knew then! This isn't the place for that discussion, but while Mr. Sanders and I do not agree on some things, the last line in the above quote particularly resonated with me. The only thing I know as I walk through this life is that I have much to learn, and I think Mr. Sanders is a lifelong learner, as I strive to be.

I grew up in rural Michigan, and my parents built their house on a little piece of my grandfather's farm. My other grandparents built a house next door to ours. I loved growing up on the farm, and have wonderful memories of living in the country. While we were certainly not farmers, my grandfather did work his farm, and kept a few cows and grew hay and corn for them. I got to help with the haying once - I thought I would never get all the dust out of my nose. I loved reading how the Sanders family learned to be farmers, to live the agrarian life, and care for all their animals. They've had some adventures! I learned a lot about farm animals and their care.

The blurb on the Dogwood Mudhole website says this book, and the two that follow, contain the story of the Sanders' family's attempt to live an authentic life. Mr. Sanders is certainly authentic. He shares his triumphs and failures, his faith and struggles, and covering it all, his love of the Lord and his family. The book is well-written, and although a slightly different style than most books, since it's made up of newsletters, it's well worth the read. I do believe my favorite parts were when Mr. Sanders described how he could smell the onset of spring each year. Here is one:
"Y'all may remember that I am near sighted and none to sharp of hearing, but I can smell a rose at six hundred yards, so spring constantly intoxicates me. First comes the clover, then the faint, piquant smell of blackberry blooms. After that there is the sharp-sweet smell of rambling roses, then wham! The honeysuckle hits. Underneath it all—I promise I'm not making this up—the pale, sweet, green smell of new vegetation." (p. 354)

And just one more quote. When Todd and I were first married and living in Michigan, I remember one January the temperature got up to something crazy like 60 degrees F. My daffodils were coming up and I can remember encouraging them to go back into the ground, or they would surely regret it. I knew the warm weather wouldn't hold, and I loved Mr. Sanders' description of an unseasonable warm spell:
"Birds make the difference. The weather may warm up, the crocuses may croak, and the daffodils may daff, but until you get birds, it's only a quirky warm snap." (p. 328)
I have enjoyed reading this book, and I hope you will read it, too. It's written for adults, but I wouldn't hesitate to hand it to one of my children to read if they were interested. It's a lot of fun. It puts me in mind of James Herriot's adventures as a new vet: steep learning curve with lots of joy on the journey. It made me want to visit the farm at Dogwood Mudhole, meet the Sanders family and all their animals, and get to know them a bit. That, to me, is a good book, when it makes me want to visit.

At Home in Dogwood Mudhole: Nothing That Eats is available for $22.95 in paperback, and $16.95 for a Kindle/ePub/PDF version.

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