Friday, May 20, 2011

Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California by Jonah Raskin

In 2009 I wrote a blog called "My Year of Reading 'Year of' Books" in which I read and wrote about books that were part of the stunt lit genre where authors spent a year making some change in their lives, and documenting it. For the most part, I really liked those books, and although my own "year of" project is over, I still look for books in this category. In the case of Field Days, the theme actually cross pollinates on three of my blogs. In addition to this one, my husband James wrote a post about it on our food blog "Una Nueva Receta Cada Semana". James and I read this one out loud to each other, we had started back in January and finally finished last night.

Raskin spent a year visitng farms, farmer's markets, wineries, and restaurants, mostly in Northern California, and spoke, and worked, with farmers, vintners, migrant workers, chefs and others who were part of the local/organic/slow food movement. He worked retail at the Red Barn Store at the Oak Hill Farm and also harvested crops. The pace of the book is slow, as it should be, and probably why we took so long to read it. We found reading this to be soothing.

Author Jack London figures in this book throughout and it is through him that we find our first library mention when we learn from "...Kevin Starr the California historian and for many years the California State Librarian [that] 'the Sonoma chapter of Jack London's life, his last chapter, dramatized a modality of California madness'". (p. 60).

The importance of libraries for research is highlighted in a passage about agribusiness in which Raskin writes of Carey McWilliams classic 1939 work Factories in the Field which "went so far as to denouce 'the rise of farm fascism'". The book was based on "his own observations of the horrendous labor conditions in the San Joaquin Valley in 1935 and on extensive library research". (p. 195)

Two mentions of "personal" libraries appear. One in the body of the work where Raskin describes the connection between food and sex in the books Consider the Oyster and The Gastronomical Me, both by M.F.K. Fisher which he says are "now a permanent part of [his] library" (p.154). The other personal library is noted in the acknowledgements "Don Emblem looked through his vast library and found books for me to read on the subject of farming and nature..."

Even with only these four brief notes about libraries Raskin shows that books (and librarians!) really are our friends.

More about the author at

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