21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Natural born millers,
This review is from: Brave Old World: A Month-by-Month Guide to Husbandry, or the Fine Art of Looking After Yourself (Hardcover)
Tom's new book can be taken as the fourth in a sequence. 'How To Be Idle' acted as a cold flannel in the face of workaday clock-in-clock-out attitudes to time. 'How To Be Free' was a pail of ice water in the same vein, this time waking us to new angles on supposedly immutable burdens such as debt and guilt. 'The Idle Parent' hit on those volumes' easiness and independence of spirit, crafting them into a glider that clipped against the trend to helicopter parenting.
Now, in 'Brave Old World', Tom addresses a tacit conundrum that some have found in those texts. That is, how to provide for one's family while keeping a radical vigilance (and a big, knobbly stick out) for the greed-led cancers he diagnosed previously.
He succeeds, but not by presenting an exhaustive guide to self-sufficiency either in terms of husbandry or dogma. Instead, he offers detailed pointers in practical matters such as keeping bees, and emphasizes some key attitudinal graces (e.g., the value of not being too hard on ourselves if we sometimes buy, rather than bake, loaves of bread.)
What comes across -- perhaps more helpful than any comprehensive tome -- is a freeing combination of earthy 'how-to' and forgiving self-care. Sometimes these two become one, such as the recommendation that enjoying a few beers is a good element of an evening spent at work in the kitchen.
Two suggestions bestride the hands-on strand of the book: plan ahead, and know your limitations.
For me, perhaps the sweetest aspect of the book is when Tom lets his earlier, often very funny, stridency, emerge in the midst of chapters in which his hands are in the soil. Example: his search for a good stove leads to an annoyance at how the commercial use of the Internet has turned good old-fashioned "asking around" in the village into a profit-skimming marketplace. The rise of the middle-man, he says, is a fair summary of the last half-millennium of capitalism.
I would have been just as happy with 600 pages as with 300 pages, not least because I suspect that Tom has a lot more to say: about, for instance, his experiences outside of his home (e.g., walking in the country, visiting the pub) or family conversations.
The sole way in which I'd like 'Brave Old World' to have been a little different probably says more about me than about Tom, and is also an implied compliment. That is, while I value his many quotations of other writers, they spatially break up the text for me a shade too much. I like reading slabs of Tom. But I look forward to paying even more attention to his citations when I re-read: they are apt and beautiful.
In 'Brave Old World', Tom seems to be saying: take the kitchen-garden pointers you want, think about the informing ideas while you have a glass of wine, then shape your own life based on what you want and can manage. And by extension, to use an actual (and my favorite) Tom quote:
"'It's all right for some', people will grumble. Then make it all right for you.