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Blithe Tomato Paperback – April 1, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a series of essays about his life as a California subsistence farmer, Madison ruminates on lessons learned during his 20-plus years in the farmers' market society. Opening with a depiction of a person he's met or a scene from agrarian life, these vignettes often blossom into expositions on larger issues and become a pulpit from which Madison preaches his sermon. His account of his experiences growing sweet corn becomes a rant against the processed food industry; the shadows of military cargo planes flying overhead launch a diatribe against what he sees as America's imperial ways. The overuse of heavy-handed analogies, a pervading tone of superiority and brash, stereotyping statements ("Like many people whose wealth is unearned, he was a rabid Republican") will alienate many readers. Redemption lies in essays about aspects inherent to the life of a small farmer: a love of nature, a sense of pleasure in one's work and an intrinsic connection to the earth and all living things. Musings on the abundance evident at farmers' markets, the nostalgic power of lilacs and the pleasure of eating a fig warmed on the tree by the afternoon sun illuminate Madison's passion for his job and add warmth to what might otherwise be a collection of denunciations of contemporary society. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

''Madison writes beautifully. He is a master of atmosphere, and creates imagery that the reader will want to linger over.''--San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

''Mike Madison is a rare find: a person who possesses both the pragmatism required of a farmer and the keen eye for flawed human nature required of a humorist. [Blithe Tomato] is proof that it's an irresistible combination.''--Saveur

''[Madison's] short, sharp pieces draw readers into psychological landscape of a small-scale farmer, but they also reflect his observations of his customers: the people who swoon at the scent of lilacs, a colorful character he calls the Old Basque, and a man with a faraway look and a jittery woman (who finally appear grounded after Mr. Madison notices them hand in hand).''--The New York Times

''With a Chekhovian eye for detail, Mike Madison has assembled a fascinating group portrait of the fellow growers--endangered individualists all, eccentrics, recluses, dreamers, anarchists--who work the land of his extended neighborhood. Madison makes us appreciate not only how much mankind's labors form landscape but also how much the land molds character for better and worse.''--Stanley Crawford, author of A Garlic Testament

''Mike Madison is one of us--farms with humility, a fool to work so hard, hands with calluses while scratching out a good life in the earth--all the while musing about life passing before our fields.'' --David Mas Masumoto, author of Epitaph for a Peach and Letters to the Valley

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Heyday; 1 edition (April 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597140244
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597140249
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #878,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In good travel narratives readers submerse themselves into more detail than they could ever imagine. And sometimes the imagination far outweighs an often blurry, or myopic focus on a colorful TV show, or even from their own travels--yes, some people are not as adventurous as the books they read.

A book like Blithe Tomato is not a travel narrative in the sense that the author is an outsider recording his take on a foreign country. There are no Yugoslavian travels, or dips into war-torn Iraq's out-of-balanced cityscapes. Yet Blithe Tomato is a journey that travels to foreign lands. Mike Madison's storytelling interconnects California's small farms with farmers' markets and the diverse people who make up a peculiar American culture of food.

Madison takes you out of the city to the war-torn farmlands of California, where farmers often fight equally between natural landscapes of blights, weeds and gophers as well as against the machinery needed to toil large plots of land--all for a miniscule profit.

And Madison brings a human side as well by describing people: people who hang in the balance of despair and success, who all traverse farmlands and farmer's markets in a shared existence that Madison politely observes.
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Format: Paperback
With beautiful writing, Mike Madison takes us behind the scenes of his farmers' market and unmasks the colorful personalities of the vendors and customers. He recounts the ideosyncratic lifestyle of today's small-scale farmer with great warmth and humor.
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This fellow is a talented writer. He has a keen eye for detail both concrete and abstract. His prose invites us to tag along and we do. We learn about gardening and we learn about people. The chapters are short (2 to 4 pages) and fly by, each leaving its mark. Two stars are deducted because the author insists on "enlightening" us with his "superior" political and economic philosophies. His personal smugness and self-righteousness leave ugly stains on otherwise remarkably good writing. Buy and read this book, if you agree with his prejudices, bully for you, otherwise just ignore the snide remarks and enjoy good writing for its own sake.
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Format: Paperback
"Blithe Tomato" is a little gem of a book. The stories are brief - just two or three pages. Just right for bed side reading. I read one or two before turning in each night. Madison has a keen eye for interesting and colorful characters. He has a dramatic flair with which he ends each piece with pithy remark or a line of wit. A philosopher in his own right he is clearly well educated. Witness his references to literature and mythology. In one story he describes his youthful stint at a boarding school in the East. In others he occasionally refers to his family's surprise and mild disapproval of his choice of profession. He is constantly at pains to explain to the reader (if not to his relatives) why he works like a slave dawn to dusk to make a meager living from the farm when he could be getting wealthy elsewhere. The explanation for this arises from his personal philosophy that appears to feature "values" such as workingmen's solidarity, being close to the earth and savoring the few pleasures of success when they arise. Altogether he is most entertaining.
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Format: Paperback
Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookseller to buy Blithe Tomato. With a quick wit, insight, and sense of humor Mike Madison weaves stories of unique farm personalities and gives us a personal peek into his own life. Buy three books; they're great gifts.
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This collection of two-or three page mini-essays about various aspects of farming and the farmers' markets will please even the most city- of city-dwellers. I have given a copy of this to TEN of my friends, one of whom is an apple grower who sells at the local city market on Saturday mornings. "Read this, Tom....I think you'd like it". The report from Tom: "I bought 10 copies and gave them to MY friends!". It was my Christmas gift to EVERYONE for 2006. Even busy folks will love the small chapters and quiet insights into how we're related to the farm.
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Format: Paperback
This book contains my current favorite sentence or three; three because my sentence takes the set up of the two previous: "If I am unenthusiastic about Bruce's nuggets of wisdom, can I offer anything better? Perhaps. One, of limited domain, sticks with me because it came to me in the course of vivid personal experience it's `When you're burning a brush pile, don't wear a straw hat.'" Now that's a sentence! Or rather an entire story in a sentence. You can carry it out as far as you have time and imagination. And it's just one of the many such vivid and entertaining offerings in this wonderful book. In addition to the entertainment there's a large dose of history, philosophy and economics which I quite enjoyed and appreciated. I would love to spend some time at the farmer's market visiting with the author, but truthfully, after finishing the book, I feel that I have. I sincerely hope he sits right down and writes another!
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Format: Paperback
Mike Madison's short essays are small snippets of reflection... they are witty, thoughtful, engaging and poignant. I encourage anyone to read this book, but especially those of you who enjoy farmer's markets, food, gardening and growing things. I truly enjoyed this book and often think back to bits and pieces of it (even though I read it years ago). Enjoy!
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