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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

No Matter What Your Poultry Ambitions, You'll Get A Kick (Cluck?) Out of Coop

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although The Pioneer Woman manages to make it look sexy, I've never in my life had any desire to live on a ranch, farm, or any other place that involves smelly animals and dusk-to-dawn chores. Michael Perry's 2009 memoir, Coop, did not change my feelings in any way, shape, or form. If anything, it convinced me that reading about someone else's clumsy attempts to do something new is a lot safer, not to mention more entertaining, than trying it myself. Besides, laughing myself silly over someone else's foibles makes me feel a whole lot better about my own.

Perry's adventure begins when he and his wife decide to move onto an overgrown Wisconsin farm. Driven by a "low-key doomsday mindset regarding the imminent future" (3)* coupled with a desire for self-sufficiency, a simplified lifestyle, and homegrown chickens, the couple takes on the project with gusto. They're not complete novices - both were raised on nearby farms - but a childhood spent baling hay, milking cows, and shearing sheep does not an expert make. As Michael soon finds out. His spread requires constant attention, from the rickety 100-year-old farmhouse to the rabbit-infested garden to his newly-acquired porkers. And then, there are the chickens. In order to make all his poultry dreams come true, Perry has to build a coop. For a wannabe handyman with a tendency to overdream and underbudget, this presents a slight problem. Especially when the homeless chickens arrive on his farm. For a man whose motto has become "Don't overreach, farmer boy" (67), Perry's done just that. Again.

To complicate matters, Perry's got a pregnant wife who insists on delivering the baby at home, a 6-year-old who's learning hard lessons about country life (pigs are food, not pets), and a writing career that leaves him with little time to fancy up the homestead. Suddenly, his simple lifestyle's getting mighty complicated.

As Perry grapples with his own problems, he mines his unorthodox childhood - the Wisconsin farm boy was raised by parents who worshipped with a fundamentalist Christian sect, raised dairy cows, and cared for dozens of foster children, including many with special needs - for tips on how to deal. Reminiscing about his early life and coping with all the mistakes and mishaps of his present one leads him to one conlusion: "While the life we are trying for here is a far cry from real farming, it does present opportunities for edification" (254). Even if those opportunities are occasionally overdone, farmer boy.

Whether your poultry ambitions include a backyard coop or just chomping nuggets at McDonald's, you'll get a kick out of Coop. It's that rare kind of memoir that had me laughing hysterically, sobbing uncontrollably and reading every other paragraph out loud to anyone who would listen. Althouh it makes getting back to nature look about as glamorous as wading through manure in high heels, the book offers a funny, tender reminder of the enduring nature of farming, family and, ahem, fowl. A real golden egg, this one is not to be missed.

(Readalikes: I don't read many farming memoirs, so I'm not sure on this one ...)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Coop from the generous folks at Harper Collins. This review was written as part of Michael Perry's book tour with TLC Book Tours. To see the other stops, click here.

*All quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof. They may have been changed in the final book.


  1. I really want to read this one! I don't read many farming memoirs either, though!

  2. As I said, I loved this one and gave it a total straight A. My review will go up tomorrow.

  3. “I've never in my life had any desire to live on a ranch, farm, or any other place that involves smelly animals and dusk-to-dawn chores.” Me either! But it IS a lot of fun to read about other people doing it, isn’t it?! :)


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