Dirt and the Good Life
by Lisa Graham McMinn and Mark R. McMinn
Published in 2012 by Barclay Press,
cover design by Darryl Brown
This is a collection of short essays about the life of two college professors who decide to start a farm on five acres of land in western Oregon and to start selling their produce through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where people pay an annual price to receive a weekly share of the crops. Some of the stories are about their spiritual journeys, some are about their marriage and family, some are about sustainable living, and some are about their farm.
Things I liked about this book:
1. The cover. I don’t think I ever mentioned the name of the designer in a book review before. But I noticed I liked this one right away, especially compared to a lot of small press book covers, and then I recognized the name. I like a lot of his work, which can be seen on his blog.
2. Their obvious but not blind or cloying love for each other, and their ability to write about it with grace. Two people who have been married for many years, who are honest about the hardships, grateful for the blessings, and are still crazy about each other. Gives me hope, it does.
3. Their humor and willingness to laugh at themselves and each other. This is probably a strong contributor to #2. And it makes the book fun to read.
4. The stories about farming: plants, animals, tools and weather. I am not a farmer, and I never want to work that hard. But I am related to some farmers (some long gone) and I love these stories about the real things in life.
5. The way that their Christian values inform their relationships and their stories without overwhelming everything else. This is hard to do in writing.
6. They’re Quakers and I know their pastor. I always like the feeling that even if I don’t know the author personally, that there’s a chance that I could meet them and that we’re not really that different. And I like it when people make Quakers look good in public.
Things I didn’t like (which are all somewhat ironic):
1. I am not cooking enough to make it worthwhile to join a CSA and this book made me feel sorry for myself.
2. It occasionally comes close to being too sweet – it worked for me, but a snarkier reader might take it badly.
3. I didn’t get to meet Mark and Lisa yet. (One more reason to visit Newberg again. See #6 above.)
One of the chapters/stories is called Downward Mobility. In it, Mark tells about writing a book that flopped and how that financial failure was a nudge towards living a better life. He says that he then gave up on ever writing a best seller. I hope that Dirt and the Good Life proves him wrong. It's that good.
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. He didn’t ask me to write anything about it, and I wouldn’t have if I didn’t really like it, but just so you know.
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