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Billy Ray's Farm Kindle Edition

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Length: 216 pages

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Celebrated for depicting the dark, seamy side of Southern life, Mississippi novelist Brown (Fay; Father and Son) turns to sunnier topics in this loose-jointed collection of essays paying tribute to the people and places that influenced his writing. The title piece, a rueful reflection on son Billy Ray's persistent bad luck with cattle, sets the tone: despite dead calves, misbehaving bulls, rampaging coyotes and dilapidated fences, father and son remain optimistic. "Billy Ray's farm does not yet exist on an earthly plane," writes Brown. "On Billy Ray's farm there will be total harmony, wooden fence rows straight as a plumb line, clean, with no weeds, no rusted barbed wire." As Brown details his own efforts to impose harmony on his farm by building a house ("Shack"), protecting his stock from predators ("Goatsongs"), clearing brush and stocking fish ("By the Pond"), he balances pastoral odes with a clear-eyed accounting of the costs of country living. That realism gives Brown's narratives a plainspoken truth that makes more believable the simple pleasures he takes in these simple tasks. The writer's home life in Oxford, Miss., is more compelling than his chronicles of book tours and writers conferences ("The Whore in Me"), but the latter is kept to a minimum. More successful are the tributes to literary mentors Harry Crews and Madison Jones and to the men who taught him "the fine points of guns and dogs" after his father's death, when Brown was 16. These humble personal essays, which provide a glimpse at the long apprenticeship of a writer who came up the hard way, leave the reader hoping Brown will soon tackle a full-blown autobiography. (Apr.) Forecast: Brown receives rave reviews for his novels and has a devoted following. This should sell well for Algonquin, especially in the South.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In the prolog to this collection of essays, Brown (Fay, On Fire, Big Bad Love) states, "You can't pick where you're born or raised. You take what you're given, whether it's the cornfields of the Midwest or the coal mines of West Virginia, and you make your fiction out of it. It's all you have. And somehow, wherever you are, it always seems to be enough." His essays underscore this sense of place with descriptions of life on his land near Oxford, MI. These essays read much like good fiction. They offer intrigue (will he get the free fish as part of the big deal on the spillway at Enid Reservoir or bag the coyote that has torn open the throats of their baby goats?), humor (holding the tail of his son's young Holstein bull while they try to get it into the pasture at Billy Ray's farm), and experience (with mentors, literary conferences, and book-signing tours). Recommended for all libraries. Sue Samson, Univ. of Montana Lib., Missoula
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1536 KB
  • Print Length: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1st edition (April 1, 2001)
  • Publication Date: April 1, 2001
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003Z9K0BW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #543,496 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on June 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
One of these days when I get through cleaning up from the storm, I'm going to start building a little cabin, right over there above the pond, up in the deep part of that shade.--Larry Brown
Larry Brown has published seven earlier works: two books of short stories (Facing the Music and Big Bad Love), an acclaimed memoir (On Fire), and four novels (Dirty Work, Joe, Father and Son, and Fay).
Billy Ray's Farm contains ten essays dealing with, among other things, the author's struggling apprenticeship to become a published author {"Harry Crews: Mentor and Friend"), his unsuccessful stalking of a goat-killing coyote ("Goatsongs"), the heartbreak of cow ownership and his son's frustrated efforts to build a thriving cattle business ("Billy Ray's Farm"), a big "fish grab" at the Enid Spillway ("So Much Fish, So Close to Home"), and his determination to carve an enclave out of the wilderness by building single-handedly a ten-by-twelve cabin ("Shack").
City slickers unfamiliar with rural life will learn from Brown all about calfpullers and other arcane mysteries.
Like Hemingway, Brown writes with a sparse, down-to-earth, no-nonsense style, with a clarity and precision unlike the convoluted sentences of Faulkner's turgid prose. When critics compare Brown to Faulkner, therefore, they do not mean the tempo of Brown's style but rather the tone of his stories, which, like Faulkner, are written from the heart and spirit, with compassion and a love for the land and people of Mississippi, Brown's microcosmic "postage stamp" universe.
By the way, in case you've never been there, Tula is a small town situated some twenty miles miles south-southeast of Oxford, Miss. (the site of Faulkner's home).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Graham R. Lewis on April 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Larry Brown's newest book of non-fiction, Billy Ray's Farm, gives anyone with an interest in the author's background a generous helping of what his life is like, both as a writer and a man. The title essay alone is worth the price of admission, but one also gets literary tributes to Harry Crews, Madison Jones, and Madison Bell; ruminations on growing up in rural Mississippi and how his life has changed since becoming a writer; explorations of the joys and difficulties of fatherhood; and healthy doses of the Mississippi landscape that comes to life so memorably in his novels. In its scope, the book reminds one of Crews' own Blood And Grits--the language is sparse but tough and to the point, and the reader never quite knows which realm of the heart and mind and hand the next page will reveal. If you're a fan of Brown's novels, this book will only deepen your understanding of where his material comes from and how faithful he is to it. If you've never read his fiction, this book is a perfect introduction to the world according to Brown.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Richard K. Weems on October 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
I have, had, and will continue to have such respect for Larry Brown--first off, that this man quite simply decided to be a writer one day, and from there worked his butt off to make that happen. His tales of writing several novels and over a hundred short stories before he wrote anything that he considered the work of a writer is quite simply archetypal. When there seems to be some concern about the effect of prodigious MFA program on the state and audience of writing, Larry Brown reminded us that it is work ethic, not education, that makes a writer.

Another great aspect of the legend of Larry Brown is the simplicity of his intent and execution. While the critic looks at writing as a mish-mash of symbols and metaphors removed from intent, Brown saw it from the blue-collar perspective--a story about characters who remind us of ourselves. The connections people have with their environments are direct and substantial--people come from a place, a patch of ground that smells and feels familiar to them; they come from groups of people who help shape them and help them identify who they are.

And it is this last point that this book revolves around. While Brown reminds us in one or two of the essays in this collection of his work ethic in the realm of writing, most of the writing here is about place and the anchor that it provides. We are taken through a tour of blues bars and fishing, of working on a farm and chasing coyotes and helping calves emerge from their mothers and building houses by hand. While some of these essays, for example the tremendously long centerpiece, don't hold a lot of drive to make each page worth turning only after the previous has been soaked up for its every syllable, the simple ethic that speaks volumes is distinctly there.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A reader on April 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
"What is it about Oxford [Mississippi] that produces writers?" It's a question Larry Brown, Barry Hannah and John Grisham get asked a lot. Brown says, "They always want to ask about Faulkner and what it all means, being a writer in Oxford, and where all the stories come from....
"I don't know what the answer is for anybody else, and I don't know what caused Faulkner to write," he explains, but "Most times, for any writer, I think it springs from some sort of yearning in the breast to let things out, to say something about the human condition, maybe just to simply to tell a story."
Of this, he knows plenty, for the essays in this memoir - I say "this," as opposed to "his," because I'm sure there will be many more - are stories of his life, so far; as a writer, indulgent father, and reluctant farmer.
Getting back to the question, he supposes it basically boils down to this: "Where do you get your ideas?" His response is "I believe that writers have to write what they know about. I don't think there's much choice in that." Elaborating, he says, "All [Faulkner] was doing was what every other writer does, and that is drawing upon the well of memory and experience and imagination that every writer pulls his or her material from. The things you know, the things you have seen or heard of, the things you can imagine. A writer rolls all that stuff together kind of like a taco and comes up with fiction. And I think whatever you write about, you have to know it. Concretely. Absolutely. Realistically."
Brown has an easy, honest way with language that is as smooth as Mississippi molasses.
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