Last week seemed to be the week for reading new books by nonfiction authors I've previously enjoyed. First up: Catherine Friend.
I first came across Friend when I read her memoir Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn, about she and her girlfriend's experiences starting a working farm. Friend's partner, Melissa, was really the one with the interest in farming, so Catherine often just seemed along for the ride. (To which I can relate: I grew up on a farm but would have to be coerced--strongly coerced, say, by a world financial meltdown or apocalypse of some kind--to return to the farm.) That was a fun memoir. I also enjoyed her follow-up, The Compassionate Carnivore, which was a great book about eating meat while still like animals, and which made a strong argument for simply making better choices about the meat you eat (and paying attention to how and where it is raised). In that respect it was about a million times better than Jonathan Safran Foer's pointless Eating Animals.
So when I saw her new title, Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep, and Enough Wool to Save the Planet, I was excited to read it. This one, like her previous books, offers short chapters and a wealth of funny stories, but I struggled to find the cohesive story arc in this one. This is rare, as I am not normally a nonfiction reader who needs a lot of story.* It's divided into five different parts, with Friend chatting variously about the latest farm adventures (including a fascinating chapter about sheep getting pregnant at the wrong time of year); menopausal difficulties; some struggles in her relationship with Melissa; and an appreciation for the farm, the sheep, and particularly their wool. She shares some interesting tidbits about wool, its history, and its properties, but I must confess she lost me on her knitting chapters. Knitting for me is a lot like gardening: It seems like a good hobby and I feel like I should be interested in it, but at the end of the day, knitting comes in at about #434 on the list of things I want to learn how to do in my life, somewhere below curling my eyebrows but above sewing in general.
It was a fun**, quick read, but if you're looking for something more cohesive I'd start with any of Friend's earlier books.
*This is why it annoys me when nonfiction read for recreation is referred to as "narrative nonfiction"--just because something isn't a how-to, doesn't necessarily make it "narrative." But people need labels. I understand.
**It starts with a zap, literally, as Friend describes a young couple's tour of her farm and their reaction to the electric fence: "...the man looks down at the smooth wire running from post to post. 'Is this electric?' I nod. There's a yellow sign hanging from the top wire about thirty feet away. The sign says, 'Warning: Electric Fence...' He can't take his eyes off the fence. 'Would it hurt?' The guy's wife rolls her eyes. 'Honey, don't touch the fence.'" Of course he touches the fence. As a wife who probably (too frequently) rolls her eyes, I got a charge out of that one. Pun intended.