French Dirt by Richard Goodman

Guys, don’t live in Maine. I know everyone talks about the brutal winters, but this summer is killing me. It’s been above ninety (about 32 degrees Celsius, for my not-American readers) regularly between the hours of eleven and eight. The air does not cool down until the sun disappears over that horizon. And it was in this weather that a friend and I decided to make the hour-long drive from Gardiner to Albion in a beast of a monster car that lacked air conditioning.

We were going to Albion to visit my sister, who works on a farm, outdoors, all day. So I’m going to stop complaining right about here, as I sit typing on my computer directly under a ceiling fan on ‘hi’.

From Albion, we drove to Banger (which is almost longer than the drive from Gardiner to Albion, but at least we were on the highway- I spent the entire time lying in the backseat with my feet out the window) to go to the mall. For those unaware, I am a rigorous saver of money. I’m very good at not spending money on what I don’t need. Emma, my sister, was determined that I spend some of this hard-earned dough, so she took me to a book store. Specifically, she took me to the Borders in Bangor.

I have a system when it comes to buying books: I very rarely buy a book I haven’t read, because I’ve discovered with startling consistency that I’m much less likely to read it, finish it, or like it if I spend money first. I don’t understand exactly, but it means that I spend a lot of time at the library (there’s something nobody knew. Shocker. Also, what’s the verb form of the word ‘patron’? I don’t think I’m patronizing the library, but I might be). If I read a book and really like it, then I’ll go spend money on it. So yesterday at Borders, I finally bought myself a copy of Water for Elephants. It’s nice to have.

Let’s talk about Borders. I’m sure most of you are aware that the entire superchain has recently gone out of business. Right now, everything in their stores is at least ten percent off, and many things are marked down even further. I was surprised when I heard their initial announcement about closing one third of their stores, but I was shocked when I heard that they were all going down.

I would like to state right now that what I’m about to say is entirely unresearched, and if I’m completely wrong in my ignorance, feel free to comment. I’d be happy to discuss this, but I’m not researching right now. I’m sleep deprived and I will bite you.

I think that Borders’ downfall is the fault of ereaders. But not just ereaders; also Netflix, and iTunes. With our relatively new ability to bring everything to us in the blink of an eye, superstar bookstores are feeling the pressure.

So are independent bookstores doomed? I don’t think so, but I can’t really explain why. Basically I think there’s a big enough percentage of people who really want these places to stay open. A few might fall through the cracks here and there, but for the most part I think they’re safe because they fill a little niche market.

Is Barnes & Noble about to go down? No, because they’ve cashed in on the ereader market. I remember the first time I entered B&N and saw the hardcover table replaced with a Nook station I was absolutely horrified, but now I’m mostly indifferent. I’m not about to switch to an ereader, in any case. B&N is safe because they’ve marketed the most popular ereader out there, and they’re making good money off the sales of Nooks and eBooks.

About an hour ago, I didn’t know if Borders had actually attempted to cash in on the eReader revolution. I had assumed not, because I’d never heard of an eReader developed by Borders, but a quick search on their website quickly corrected me. Borders did make an eReader- it’s called Kobo. It sells for almost the same price as the Nook and Kindle, but for some reason it never took off. As I said, I’d never heard of it.

So, to sum this all up, I don’t think the downfall of Borders is the bird in the room that signals death. I think Borders’ failure is Borders’ folly.

French Dirt is a book my father gave me a few months ago, right in the middle of my foodie-memoir spree, attesting that “gardening seems like the next step.” The book is a memoir by Richard Goodman, who took a year with his girlfriend, Iggy, to stay in a village known as St. S├ębastien de Caisson, population 211. They rented a quaint little stone building with two stories, a fireplace, and friendly neighbors. Soon, Richard finds himself falling in love with the strong, earthy gardeners that fill the village, and dreams of having on himself. At the end of the year, he’ll return to New York City, and the possibility of his creating a garden to rival what he’s seen will all but vanish. Generously, a friend gives him the land he needs to get started. It’s a small patch in the middle of a larger field, located near a healthy stream. He works.

At first, this seemed like the first sort of quick read that I would be able to get through quickly after being unable to finish a few novels previously. Indeed, I read the first half or so in more or less one sitting. After that, though, my pace stuttered to a painful crawl. I could say I was busy, because I probably was, but I managed to read about twenty pages in three days, and my interest was waning. Yesterday, my bookmark fell out somewhere around the 130-page mark, and I didn’t both to find my exactly place again. I picked up at page 155, and finished it a few hours later. It’s a slim novel, only 201 pages, with unusually wide margins. It is a quick read.

However, just because it didn’t keep me attached doesn’t mean the book is without merit. I think that if you were interested in gardening, you would find this book as interesting and inspirational as I find any of my cooking books. Richard’s accomplishment- he did create a thriving, impressive garden in the south of France, despite having next to no experience, a brutal summer, and conflicting opinions flying at him from every direction- is worthy of praise. He writes about it with passion and affection and a fun tone that makes the book an enjoyable read. I wish that I could care a little more about his success.

Richard also writes very warmly about everyone he met in France- he literally liked every single one of them, and he tried to get to know them all closely. In a village of only 211 people, it was’t entirely difficult, and everyone was willing to lend him a hand where they could. Everyone has a history and a garden. Everyone has time for a chat and food to spare. It was very friendly, very quaint. It can make one nostalgic for France, even if you’ve never been there.

Okay, next on the list is a book I got from the library because I need something to read while all of my out-of-states books take their sweet time getting here. This one (French Dirt) actually came from my pile of books that I own and which is oft neglected because I can’t stay out of the library for more than three or four days. The pile is getting smaller, because I never add to it and very occasionally subtract from it.

Goodnight, Wesley. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.

Published in: on July 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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