Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review: Idyll Banter (Book 48 of 100)

Idyll Banter is one of those essay collections that people are always telling I should write, but I don't have the patience for. I've started to write essay collections in the past, but I get bored after a page and a half. Given the fact that most essay collections are at least 150 pages, I don't think my attempting this is a good idea. Chris Bohjalian, however, is quite capable of attempting this form. I liked his collection of essays very much. I think because I also live in a small New England town. Belchertown is very much, from what I can gather based on one essay collection, very similar to Lincoln, Vermont.

Like his town, we are rapidly losing farms. Although, we still have a few unlike Lincoln, which now has none. As he says, "The farms may have left Lincoln, but the sense of community remains." I feel the same way about Belchertown.

In perhaps the most oddly similar story to my own community, Lincoln also lost its library a few summers ago. Fortunately for Belchertown, we didn't suffer a fire as Lincoln had and most of our book are intact. The ceiling simply caved in at our library. Still, it was shocking how similar Bohjalian's feelings were to my own. I, too, felt that "life without a library" was a little less interesting. My entire community felt, I believe, the loss of our "gathering place" similarly also. I felt like a stranger going to another town's library because as the author puts, "other people's libraries can be intimidating."

I found the essay about town meetings very appealing. Belchertown has a town meeting too and every year as in Lincoln, someone proposes to get rid of it. They haven't succeeded yet. And as long as I live here, they won't without at least hearing my objection. As burdensome as the process is at times, it's still one of the only moments in the entire year when you can gather and feel democracy beating in your soul. I consider very few moments throughout the whole year holy. Town meeting is definitely one of them. I feel as does the author that "Town meeting is not quite ready for a respirator."

While I'm not going to comment on every essay in the collection, I will say I was surprised to learn that the amazing fall foliage in Vermont is the result of overlogging and then replanting in the early 20th century. I guess deforestation is not always a bad thing. The problem is now we forget to replant. I also particularly enjoyed his long rhapsody about potentially "running over the baby Jesus." This is because he keeps the churches nativity scene in his barn during the off season. Only in New England would someone do this. I also enjoyed his essay on travel where he says he benefits greatly from "seat of your pants travel." That is to say, the kind of travel without destination and with no control over reservations or prices. Being in a wheelchair I can't accomplish this very easily, but it's nice to dream about. Maybe one day if I ever get a van, I can just sleep in it while I travel all over the U.S.

The last bit of this collection is not an essay. It's a short story about a widower and his daughter. The first time the little girl is allowed to go into the ladies' room by herself and her father paranoid and worries that something horrible has happened to her. Of course, nothing has happened. This story reminded me of one of my assistant's mothers who always assumes that everyone her daughter meets is psychotic or murderous. I guess however, every adult who is responsible for a young person feels that way. I tend to get that way when I'm watching my honorary niece or nephews even though I know, for the most part, all the people in their lives would never hurt them.

I rate this collection an 8,25 out of 10. I think it's funny, but that may just be because I've lived in New England for too long. I don't know how this collection will translate to people who are not from the area. It made me interested to read some of Bohjalian's other work. I'd never even heard of him before. I just picked up this book randomly from my audiobook club. Even though I don't know how this book will fare in other parts of the country, I think most people will enjoy it. Specifically, I would advise you to give it a read if you're from New England, particularly a town that still has meetings and libraries where everyone knows everyone.

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