Fast Read: Dirty Chick, by Antonia Murphy

photo (3)In a late episode of The West Wing, Toby asks a senator what she’d like to do if she weren’t politicking. “I’d grow apples,” she says.

The first time I saw that scene, a lightbulb went off. That’s what I’d like to do too, if I weren’t writing and reading, and if I had a propensity related to green things that didn’t involve killing them. (Although I like to think that this year I’ve progressed to benign neglect.) Someday I fully intend to (a) buy a house and (b) turn half said house’s backyard into a garden, which will (c) necessitate the acquisition of many, many gardening books. Doesn’t that work out nicely?

Anyway, you’ve perhaps noted that my agricultural ambitions involve only flora, not fauna, and if you’re wondering why, look no further than Antonia Murphy’s Dirty Chick*, a funny, brash, and often gross memoir of her foray into farm life.

Like many of us who saw The Lord of the Rings, Antonia Murphy thought that New Zealand looked like a pretty great place to live. Unlike many of us who saw The Lord of the Rings, she actually moved there.

Rural New Zealand, in her account, certainly has its charms — beautiful countryside, interesting and friendly neighbors, an abundance of fruit with which to make homemade wine — but it’s still a whole new world for an American free spirit with a penchant for embellished headbands and animals that look cute (at first).

Dirty Chick is a zany romp through Ms. Murphy’s first year in Purua with her family, as she deals with grumpy alpacas, a renegade cow, too many maggots, goat medical emergencies, a flock of chickens, and moldy cheese (that last one is a good thing). At the same time, the family adjusts Ms. Murphy’s son’s developmental delays, hoping that life in Purua and the quality of its local school will help him thrive. Ms. Murphy’s obvious dedication to her son, her family, her friends, and her animals is endearing and wonderful to read about.

Dirty Chick is not for the squeamish, those offended by profanity, those with an oversensitive gag reflex, or those who prefer their romantic dreams of artisan farming unshattered (if you don’t believe me, just read the prologue, which involves goat placenta). But if you’re looking for a taste of farm life without the work, a book that will make you laugh every few pages, and an author whose wine recipes you’d love to ask for, and who you’d like to raise a glass with, Dirty Chick is for you. (On that last one: just don’t look in Antonia Murphy’s purse.)

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

Recommended Reading: Entries, by Wendell Berry

EntriesI find myself rushed this week, Dear Readers, so this post will not be as long as it ought to be given its subject: Wendell Berry.

Mr. Berry is a noted essayist, novelist, poet, and environmentalist; he is particularly concerned with the loss of small farms in America. He practices what he preaches, living and working on his own farm in Kentucky.

Entries is the first book of his that I’ve ever picked up; I wish I’d come across it sooner, because the poems in it are wonderful. They are human and humble, agile and grounded. Though I admired all the poems, and the poet’s fine sense of our relationship to nature, I particularly loved a poem called “The Wild Rose,” which is a tribute to his wife, and In Extremis, a series of poems about his father’s illness and death. If you’d like to get a sense of Mr. Berry’s style, the Poetry Foundation has links to quite a few poems on this page.

I highly recommend Entries; I’ll be on the lookout for more books by Wendell Berry. If you have a favorite book or poem, please let me know what it is!