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Showing 1-10 of 27 reviews(3 star). Show all reviews
on December 10, 2012
I have longed for, and not found, many modern biographical books out there about women who farm. I was excited to find this memoir, and enjoyed it, but despite the talented writing, I felt a lack of connection to the author and the people she includes in her story.

I wanted to love this book, but found myself disappointed by the lack of deeper characterizations and motives revealed. Many of the author's actions, large and small, are described, but go unexamined and unexplained. I wanted a 'new best friend' in this book, but I found the author oddly emotionally unavailable, offering what felt to me like detached, generic platitudes for unique descriptions (however beautifully phrased), instead of deeply personal truths.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the 'shop talk' of farming that the book offered. Much of what she describes, and describes well, will be very familiar to people who have worked on a small scale organic farming operation. I found myself laughing and sighing at what was very recognizable.

Occasionally a detail is thrown into the story that to me didn't quite resonate with the rest of the character of the book - a few of her musings and memories felt gratuitous, undeveloped, or incongruous with what I found relatable about the author. Perhaps this was in part because of the 'one year' format of the book, edited for space. I would have appreciated fewer lovely vignettes in exchange for deeper reflection on the inevitable, sometimes heartbreaking compromises and conflicts that farming can push one up against. There certainly are enough how-to books out there.

At times the author's voice veers from humility to a sort of eco-pious braggadocio -- that inconsistency makes me think she hadn't quite found her comfort zone within the diverse roles that small scale family farming places one in. But it is her story, and she does tell it for the most part in a self-deprecating tone that I enjoyed. It's a fun look at her transition from city to country. I certainly respect all of the skills she managed to gain in one short year, and the time it took her to write the book while trying to raise a small child and continue to run her farm. Never having tried to put my own experience down in a book - it's easy to be a critic. And when you run a farm -- it can be like living in a fishbowl, so perhaps the emotional omissions are deliberate.

Definitely worth reading!
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on June 27, 2013
I'll summarize:

Part one: Woman (somewhat dispassionately) falls in love with a grungy, self-centered, uncompromising hippie who makes no attempt to meet her halfway on anything. She visits him on a farm and works her ass off... he visits her in the city, pooh-poohs everything she enjoys and basically s**** all over her lifestyle. He pressures her to sell her apartment and furniture and drags her upstate to move in with his parents for almost a year while he sits around waiting for a free farm to fall into his lap, because apparently a sense of entitlement counts as a business plan now. He can't be bothered to turn his shirt right-side-out to meet her parents, and demands she crap in a bucket in the living room and not use electricity.

She assures you, dear reader, that these "quirks" are really quite entrancing.

Part two: They move onto an enormous farm that some rich dude volunteered for free (yep, he found one), ousting the current tenants, but not before all of the tenants' pet dogs get shot for attacking (non-fatally) the author's new dairy cow (and making them cover the vet bill.) She makes a vague mention that oh, it's possible one of the renters might've sort of liked his dog because he seemed to be crying when she went to collect her money... but expresses pretty much no sympathy towards the dogs, renters, OR cow.

At this point, I stopped reading. If I wanted to read a boring book about unlikeable people being self-absorbed and emotionally cut-off I'd read some Bret Easton Ellis and at least get some sex and drugs in the deal.
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on December 2, 2013
I wanted to like this book. This is a book that suffers from a lack of glossary. The author uses many terms specific to farming and farm equipment that go unexplained. This is distracting as one has to go searching for definitions, disrupting the flow of the story. A typical beginner's writing mistake, disappointing in a self-described experienced writer. A good editor should have insisted on greater clarity and a comprehensive glossary.

Ms. Kimball fails to hit the emotional note that would explain the decision to undertake such a drastic change in her life. The result is an ultimately unsatisfying read.
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on May 28, 2014
Here we have a kind of city lights to farm wife, Green Acres-ish memoir, one woman's Thoreau-like trek from big city consumption and self-obsession, to extremely rural production and self-negation. Travel writer Kristin Kimball goes to rural Pennsylvania on assignment, to interview `Mark,' a lanky, determined, back-to-the-land guy who greets her with a shovel and tells her to get to work; there will be no interview until the crop is tended. Some pickup line. Well, it worked. Kimball falls for the guy, or his work ethic, or his vision, or the bucolic life he's laser-focused on, or all of the above. Smitten, she writes that she feels `like an interloper in nature's bedroom.'
The result of Kristin & Mark's (mind-numbing) exertions is Essex Farm. Hard by Lake Champlain in New York's hardscrabble North Country, (always capitalized) Essex Farm centers the two pioneers, their aim, nothing less than to feed their neighbors and themselves on what they produce, with horses and without chemicals. As a business model, the farm will recruit `members,' those families that sign on, year by year, to use Essex Farm as their single source for food. The model is a new/old concept coming into its own after too many years of Big Ag and the great swath of American heartland smothered in corn-based...everything.
This may be one of Kimball's missed opportunities in The Dirty Life. Non-fiction readers these days tire pretty quickly of political cant. Americans are drowning in ideological brickbat-throwing contests, and talking-heads blather, so NF authors, rightly I believe, avoid adding to that ever-festering manure pile. But Kimball seems to pretend that the to-the-death struggle between Big Ag and its grip on the national food budget, and Essex Farm's faltering, tiny light against that monolith, that contrast doesn't exist. Too bad. The Dirty Life needed much more narrative about the Why of the small, local farm, the What's Better, and the Where We're Headed Without This, aspect of it.
Another shortcoming of The Dirty Life is its focus on the wedding. Throughout the work, the question of commitment dangles like the sword of Damocles over Kimball's writing. Will I stay? Will I return to the big city? Do I love this man, this farm, this vision enough to let go of my old, comfy, urban life? It's a fair question, of course. As Kimball writes, even Thoreau walked to his mother's house for lunch every day. But after all the descriptions of exhaustive farm chores, mind and body numbing responsibility and several references to the immediacy and urgency of farm items, Kimball marries, then jets off to Maui for two months. That work assignment seems to undercut the previous references to demands on her every waking instant on Essex Farm.
Still, The Dirty Life is a very satisfying read, full of intimate detail about local farm life that can only be learned from the sweaty, back-breaking doing of it, and learned best, it appears behind the glistening rumps of heaving, farting, lumbering and magnificently powerful draft horses.
Farm life is damned hard, damned discouraging work. As Kimball says, `Unknown outpaces known like to do outpaces done.' As a writer, I can relate to this. As much as I enjoyed The Dirty Life, I'll keep writing. Unlike Kristin Kimball, I hereby vow to never again, if it can be helped, set foot in a farm field. I will, however, be open to the local co-op concept, and I do see the (very high) value in supporting such endeavors. Just keep me away from cows and their colostrum.
Byron Edgington, author of The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying & Life
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on May 30, 2013
"The Dirty Life" has all the characteristics of a great read, and in its first chapters it had great promise. I love the premise: A spoiled and hedonistic New Yorker more comfortable with self-referential irony than she is with manual labor meets a young farmer who's completely the opposite in temperament, falls in love with him despite the firm protestations of her friends and family, and starts a farm with him. The book does sputter one-third through, which the author begins describing farm-life: The writing loses its luster and elegance, the writer loses her patience and empathy, and we readers become bogged down in tangents and trivialities.

It seems to me the book is a rushed product, and did not go through the proper digestion, reflection, and gestation phases that a good book requires.
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on March 16, 2015
The book was at times exciting, at times satisfying, but kind of a mixed bag. I’m familiar with growing and CSAs, so I actually enjoyed all the in-depth discussions of equipment and farming practices. Farming is nothing if not an adventure, and she described that well. It was when the author tried to go a little deeper that I found disappointing. She and her husband didn’t come across as terribly sympathetic characters--mind you, I’ll bet they’re perfectly likeable people in real life, so it has something to do with her portrayal of them. There seemed to be such an undercurrent of pseudo-religious inflexibility, in the way that many non-religious people have, that was irksome, to me at least. You can’t just move to the city, you have to throw yourself into becoming a NYC caricature. Then you can’t just become a farmer, you have to renounce every trace and scrap of your former life. I understand that farming is more than a job, it’s a vocation, but I don’t enjoy reading what sounds almost like religious rigidity. Her husband fares even worse in his portrayal—a guy who takes a stand against *chairs* at a wedding? Chairs mean what, that you’re abandoning your principles? Again, he’s probably a fine guy but she's chosen some bizarre examples to highlight.

But then there are the passages that make the book satisfying- her hilarious descriptions of how the locals help without “telling her what to do.” Her palpable relief when the first frost hits. That very first meal she cooked while visiting; you feel like you’re there at the table. It’s worth a read if you like the topic.
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on October 9, 2014
Will make you NOT want a farm. Tells of her hard and horrible life on the farm. What I took from the book was that they
took on too much too fast. Tried to do a huge farming project .... in every phase of farming... immediately. And with
no machinery.
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on June 25, 2015
I realize that the author is educated but to use words that the average uneducated person will not understand or use the dictionary to learn is no excuse to write in that arena. Otherwise my compiments to the author for sticking with her commitment and her hard work which seems to be short of in this nation today as well as learning. My wife and I read the book together and except for the language we enjoyed the whole of it.
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on October 9, 2012
I really enjoyed this book purely from an information stand point. I found learning about the grueling life of a new farmer interesting. I thought the author wrote very well and included lots of personal details to keep the book going. Since this is a true story I liked her farms approach to whole foods eating. I was only taken back by the authors complete change in diet as mention in the beginning chapter. She was a vegetarian for 13 years and within one day of meeting a handsome farmer completely changed her values and lifestyle. She wasn't even living at the farm at that point, she had just met her future husband. The second day of eating meat and she was butchering a hog, without a care to her previous way of life. It would have been nice if she wrote about what this change meant to her or how watching an animals entrails spill out of it's body felt "natural" now when only one week prior she would have thought otherwise. She then goes on to describe how to cook the most undesirable parts of her farm animals in great detail. I mean fat, bone and testicles cooking lessons throughout the book, I could have gone without those recipes. Other than the authors lack of integrity to her own values, I found this book a good read if you are interested in what it takes to begin a working farm.
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on March 28, 2014
I have a friend who says that food – real food - should be dirty and bloody. In other words, fresh and clean and near to the earth. I think Kimball would agree. In ‘The Dirty Life’ she writes about love and dirt and farming, to be sure, but the book is deeper and explores ideas about success and commitment and simplicity.

Kimball writes in a comfortable prose though her Ivy League education peeks through at times. Other reviewers note some oddities that I can’t argue with. She converts from being a long-time vegetarian to meat eater in a single night, helping her boyfriend kill a deer and then romantically feasting on its liver. Her commitments waver. There is a feeling throughout the book that she is tip-toeing through this new adventure in the way that an adrenaline junkie would: the commitment lasts as long as the feeling does. Even as the book reaches its climax, her marriage and the reaping of their first harvest, she runs off to Hawaii just in time to let her husband harvest the crop by himself.

But I think it’s these inconsistencies that make the book more human and universal. The book isn’t about farming or living a simple life – there are much better books about those things – but it’s about the struggle to work hard and stay committed to something you choose. It’s about growing into who you want to be. As such I think it’s an excellent read. Highly recommended.
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