Dave Wood's Book Report, July 11, 2007
Years ago, I was a regular on Steve Benson's Minnesota Public Radio talk show. Every week, we'd meet a different author coming through town.
One day it turned out to be one of my favorite essayists, Roy Blount Jr.
During the show Blount expressed the highest regard for Minnesota's Garrison Keller. Little wonder. The more I read of Blount, the more I think of Keller, our very own informal essayist par excellence.
Blount, who has moved his body to the northeast where he is president of the Author's Guild, remains in my book the southern version of Keller. Nowhere is that more apparent than in his 19th book, "Long Time Leaving" (Knopf, $25).
Here he is on "The Southern Way of Eating":
"These days, people worry so much about their hearts that they don't eat hearty. The way folks were meant to eat is the way my family ate when I was growing up in Georgia. We ate till we got TIRED. Then we went "Who!" and leaned back and wholeheartedly expressed how much we regretted that we couldn't summon up the strength, right then, to eat some more.
"When I moved to the Northeast, I met someone who said she liked to stop eating while she was still just a little bit hungry. I was taken aback. Intellectually, I could see it was a sound and even an admirable policy. Lord knows it kept her in better shape than mine did me. I just thought it was insane.
"We have only so much appetite allotted to us in our time on this Earth, was my feeling, and it's a shame to run any risk of not using it all.
People I grew up with wanted to get on out beyond their appetite a ways to make sure they used all of it. They wanted to get FULL. They INTENDED to get full. If a meal left them feeling just as touch short of overstuffed, they were disappointed.
I knew a man once who complained about little Spanish peanuts because they never added up to enough to give him any reason to quit eating them till they were all gone, and then he was still up to eating some more. 'I can't get ahead of then,' he said.
"But eating right is not just a question of quantity. Primarily its quality. It's not letting any available good taste go unswallowed.
The people I grew up with didn't just take of few of the most obvious bites out of a piece of chicken and then decide abstractly, 'I have, in effect, eaten this piece of chicken.' They recognized that the institution of fried chicken demands a great deal of chickens, and my people felt honor bound to hold up their end. They ate down to the bones and pulled the bones apart and ate in between the bones and chewed on the bones themselves. And the bones that weren't too splintery they gave to the dogs, that were glad to have them. (Unless they're overbred, dogs are essentially Southern.)
As someone who grew up on a farm that was worked with horses, I'm continually amazed at the renaissance of the equine after horses had surrendered to the belching tractor of postwar America. Drive a few miles out of the Twin Cities and horse farms -- along with suburban developments -- dominate the landscape.
And I've also wondered how the tender-footed city folks who own these horses and board them out in my neck of the woods can figure out what to buy and how to buy and how to maintain.
I received lots of answers in a beautiful regional book, that answers these questions and more. "How to Raise Horses," by Daniel and Samantha Johnson (Voyageur Press, $19.95 paper) details the ins and outs of choosing a breed to health management to showing at fairs and club meets.
Daniel manages a farm where horses are bred, trained and shown. Samantha is a certified horse show judge.
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.