Monday, August 16, 2010

BookClubSandwich: Thoughts on Coop

Welcome one and all to the inaugural discussion at BookClubSandwich: Online book club for foodies and wannabes! Kim and I are excited to have you.

This is how the discussion will work. I'll post my opening thoughts here (a review of sorts), pose some questions, and you're free to post your own thoughts throughout the week and carry on a discussion in my comments or yours if you feel moved to do so. At the end of the week (next Monday), Kim will post a wrap-up at her blog. Don't forget to add your own post to the Linky List below so we can all follow each other's thoughts throughout the week.

The book up for discussion this quarter, Coop, by Michael Perry:

I'm not sure which cover you have, but if its either of these, you're in the right place.

My Thoughts:

I first heard of Coop when Heather, The Capricious Reader, reviewed it on her blog in May. While she told me not to expect Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I think I still did expect it on some level. Now, I should also make a confession right about here: I haven't finished the book yet. I'm about halfway done, and I should complete it this week, but I just had to get that off my chest! In essence, this isn't a proper review, but I can give you my thoughts at this point in the book. It's a review-in-progress, if you will.

While Perry is most definitely a good writer--finely crafted sentences and anecdotes abound--it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Let's start with a description of the book. Perry is writing about family more than chickens, animals, or anything else to do with the farm life. There's plenty of farming, mind you, but much of the book jumps back and forth from Perry's thoughts about his wife and stepdaughter, and his insecurities about impending fatherhood, to his childhood on a farm. His own parents constantly received foster children--some of whom stayed, some of whom went, and some of whom did not live to leave the farm. Not only do they have a herd of cows and sheep, they also have a herd of kids!

I really enjoy Perry's voice. He's funny and introspective by turns. He's sensitive and sarcastic. His writing comes across as very earthy, self-deprecating, and charming in general. That said, I found myself waffling back and forth between supreme entertainment and flustered exhaustion. His descriptions either made me cackle or roll my eyes. Let's have some examples!

A passage I didn't care for:
Our De Laval Milkers were composed of a stainless steel bucket that sat flat on the floor and was capped with a detachable top sprouting several sets of hoses. One set was plugged into the overhead vacuum pipe. The other two hoses--a narrow black "pulse tube" to provide vacuum, and a larger clear tube to carry the milk--were connected to a shiny silver claw from which radiated four hollow rubber tubes called inflations. The inflations were collared by individual stainless steel shells that created a potential space wherein the air pressure was alternately lowered and released by means of a revolving mercury switch and a wonderfully named unit called the pulsator.
Um, yeah. Personally, I found this whole description mind-numbing and slightly frustrating. I have no idea what a mercury switch is, I am not in the least bit mechanical, and I don't care. Given, it's not Perry's fault that I'm easily confused and mechanically retarded, but I think a little brevity of detail would've been appropriate here. He continues to wax poetic about the milking machine for a good while longer, and at the end of it, I felt as if I wanted those moments of my life back, but they were lost and never to be regained. In short, I wished he'd gotten on with the memory instead of giving me a blow-by-blow of the mechanics of a milker. I'd rather know how he worked it than trying for half a page to picture it.

On the other hand, some of his descriptions (especially of ineptitude) made me cackle. Good example:
For the first minute or so, I fared pretty well. I'd run in a straight line until I could feel the thud of her hooves, then I'd cut a real tight turn. While she slowed down to change directions, I sprinted clear again. With every juke I kept trying to work my way closer to the fence and safety, and before long we had zig-zagged to within about twenty yards of the woven wire, but I was getting winded, and that cow hadn't lost a step. Finally, when I cut two corners not quite tight enough and she tagged me with a half-root, I realized I had to make a break for it. I still had the rubber mallet, but if I squared off to whack her, I risked getting trampled. Instead, I decided to fling it at her head in the manner of throwing an ax, hoping to clock her good enough to slow her down. Gripping the mallet handle tightly and running full tilt, I looked back over my left-hand shoulder, gauged the distance and, still on the run, pivoted halfway around and flung the mallet at her crazy-cow noggin with every bit of strength I could muster.

And missed her completely.
Now THAT's the kind of silliness that brings me onboard. Less mechanical/technical, more foibles.

Right now, at the point where I stopped to write this review, we're inching ever closer to the moment his child will enter the world and there's a lot of laboring sheep. When did I think I'd ever write that on this blog?

Please leave your links below, and feel free to comment in the comments section. I'll post my final thoughts later in the week.

To think about:
  • How does this memoir live up to others you've read in the food/farming/sustainable living genre?
  • Do you have any particular favorite character from Perry's life? I'm particularly fond of his father and mother. Though the stories of siblings are often heartbreaking.
  • How does the quality of the writing work for you?
  • Share some of your favorite passages.
  • Sundry thoughts and opinions encouraged.



  1. I just won this one a few weeks ago and am waiting for it to arrive in my mailbox. I look forward to reading it.

  2. He lost me when he started talking about tractors. I ended up really liking Coop but those kind of details I could have done without.

    I'm with you on the parents. What incredibly humble people! And Perry is a great guy himself. How many memoirs would whine about how poor the writer was growing up? Perry is grateful for that experience.

    I reviewed this back in June, can I still leave a link?

  3. Kathleen, I hope you enjoy it!

    Chris, please do leave a link! Anything mechanical, I'm pretty much out on the description. I didn't really understand the milking machine description until I read it aloud to Chuck. He liked it, me not so much. We both LOLed when it came to the cow and the mallet, though.

    I also loved that he was grateful for those poor farming years growing up. He made them sound exciting and really reminded me how much those little things were enjoyable when I was young.

  4. I liked the way he explained about not being able to say exactly how many brothers and sisters he has, and a lot of the little details he gives about how to do things. I didn't follow the milking one in every specific, but generally I liked that he gave all the specifics.

  5. I really enjoyed Coop! While I am not mechanically inclined either I found it interesting when he described the milking process, although the cow incident was indeed amusing.

    Before I read Coop though, I read his prior 2 memoirs. I have a "hang up" about reading things in order. The first Population:485 was about how his life as an EMT. The second Truck was about the rebuilding of his International Harvester truck. Ironically, I saw that exact truck today when I was out walking. These prior 2 books were just as good as Coop.

    One reason I love reading memoirs is that they present a person's life that is so far removed from my own, it becomes a learning experience. I can live vicariously through them!!

  6. I read (and reviewed this) a few months ago and, once I got into its rhythms, I enjoyed it. I liked the family stuff more than the farm stuff ... though some of the farm stuff was downright comical (esp. Little Miss Shake and Bake.)

    I did enjoy Perry's down-to-earth approach, and I was in awe of the life that his parents led. Talk about leading by example.

    I don't think it has a little to do with farming/sustainable living but it isn't the sole focus of the book.

  7. Jeanne, I enjoyed his detailed style very much except when it came to mechanics and farm equipment. I loved all the stories about his family, and I got that "warm fuzzy" feeling of reminiscing about my own childhood.

    Elisabeth, I enjoyed reading about the cows and sheep and other goings on sooo much, just the details of a metal machine made me sleepy. lol I'm glad to see that you've read his other books. I particularly want to read Population: 485. I also enjoy memoirs for the same reason you do. I've been sooo many places through books.

    Jenners, I'm finding it necessary to get into his rhythms as you said. Once I caught the flow I was just fine! It's definitely more than a farming book. :)

  8. I was happy that he finally discussed the obscure fundamentalist sect that he always mentioned in other things I've read by him...I had visions of crazy religion, and was relieved that his parents belonged to a very quiet church.

    My favorite character might just be Little Miss Shake and Bake, the poor little chicken. And I cracked up when his daughter referred to the pigs as Ham and Bacon, because when I was a kid, that's what we actually named our two pigs!


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