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Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting Hardcover – April 21, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Book Description

In over his head with two pigs, a dozen chickens, and a baby due any minute, the acclaimed author of Truck: A Love Story gives us a humorous, heartfelt memoir of a new life in the country.

Last seen sleeping off his wedding night in the back of a 1951 International Harvester pickup, Michael Perry is now living in a rickety Wisconsin farmhouse. Faced with thirty-seven acres of fallen fences and overgrown fields, and informed by his pregnant wife that she intends to deliver their baby at home, Perry plumbs his unorthodox childhood—his city-bred parents took in more than a hundred foster children while running a ramshackle dairy farm—for clues to how to proceed as a farmer, a husband, and a father.

And when his daughter Amy starts asking about God, Perry is called upon to answer questions for which he's not quite prepared. He muses on his upbringing in an obscure fundamentalist Christian sect and weighs the long-lost faith of his childhood against the skeptical alternative ("You cannot toss your seven-year-old a copy of Being and Nothingness").

Whether Perry is recalling his childhood ("I first perceived my father as a farmer the night he drove home with a giant lactating Holstein tethered to the bumper of his Ford Falcon") or what it's like to be bitten in the butt while wrestling a pig ("two firsts in one day"), Coop is filled with the humor his readers have come to expect. But Perry also writes from the quieter corners of his heart, chronicling experiences as joyful as the birth of his child and as devastating as the death of a dear friend.

Alternately hilarious, tender, and as real as pigs in mud, Coop is suffused with a contemporary desire to reconnect with the earth, with neighbors, with meaning . . . and with chickens.

Amazon Exclusive: Marshaling Memories by Mike Perry

In forming a recollection of that compelling moment when I laid my tongue upon a frozen hammerhead--an act some forty years past--I trust my memory completely. I give this trust based on the electric clarity with which I can resurrect the physical sensation of my taste buds tacking themselves to the subzero steel with a merciless subcellular crinkle. I see no need to verify this reminiscence by licking additional frozen hammers. Still, memory is a notoriously unreliable narrator, and therefore, whenever possible, I rummage around for verification. Sometimes it is as simple as calling Mom. When you took my brother Jud to the Frost-Top Drive-In on his first day with the family after the social worker dropped him off, did he (as I recall) really eat his hamburger, wrapper and all? He ate the wrapper, says Mom, but it was a hot dog. And so the correction is made.* In other instances the verification is archival. Seeming to remember that I experienced my first religious conversion after a spate of bad behavior in third grade, I traveled to the grade school of my childhood and was allowed to rummage through a box in the subterranean boiler room until I found my third grade report cards. The following excerpt served as evidence that yes, the third grade me was in need of spiritual improvement. Also, my third grade teacher wasn’t a top hand with the typewriter:
Student Attitude to Date:
Work Habits: Continues to Waste Time. Mike appears to belligerent\when asked to get to work.

A mother's handwriting. Welcome home.
In other cases we strive not for verification but elicitation. In looking at the first photo on the right I can recall what it was like to be a shirtless farm boy in the sun; the straw-like smell of the stubble and how it pricked the soles of my bare feet; and, out of the blue, an unexpected emotional wallop as I recognize my mother’s handwriting and realize that the evocation of a person hardly requires their likeness. Literal traces will do.

Sometimes--and I am not speaking here of fabrication--we must construct memories we never retained. Poorly-lit as it is, the secpnd photo tells me much about my world as it was on my third day of life: that my father was the type of man who would grab a sheet of discarded stock from the paper mill of his employment and fashion a sign to welcome his wife and firstborn son home from the hospital; that the big ship painting currently hanging upstairs in my parents farmhouse has been in the family since the beginning; and finally (this required close study until I made out the rocking chair in the shadows, and further realized that the two strips of shininess visible toward the right side of the piano were reflected from the gilded pages of two bibles), I was able to conjure the week-old me, safe in my mother’s arms, the Word of God close at hand, belief and unbelief yet to come.

*The question of Mom as unreliable narrator is not to be raised. Shame on you.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Perry (Population: 485) is that nowadays rare memoirist whose eccentric upbringing inspires him to humor and sympathetic insight instead of trauma mongering and self-pity. His latest essays chronicle a year on 37 acres of land with his wife, daughters and titular menagerie of livestock (who are fascinating, exasperating personalities in their own right). But these luminous pieces meander back to his childhood on the hardscrabble Wisconsin dairy farm where his parents, members of a tiny fundamentalist Christian sect, raised him and dozens of siblings and foster-siblings, many of them disabled. Perry's latter-day story is a lifestyle-farming comedy, as he juggles freelance writing assignments with the feedings, chores and construction projects that he hopes will lend him some mud-spattered authenticity. Woven through are tender, uncloying recollections of the homespun virtues of his family and community, from which sprout lessons on the labors and rewards of nurturance (and the occasional need to slaughter what you've nurtured). Perry writes vividly about rural life; peck at any sentence—One of the [chickens] stretches, one leg and one wing back in the manner of a ballet dancer warming up before the barre—and you'll find a poetic evocation of barnyard grace. Photos. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061240435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061240430
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #549,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By S. Scinta on April 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Coop is one of the best books (and certainly the best memoir) I have read in many years, a perfect book for our difficult times. With humor and grace, Perry takes the reader along for a year of great changes, some positive and some devastating (I will spare the details so as not to ruin the reading experience), showing the reader that there is profundity and beauty in even the most mundane experiences of daily life. I found myself laughing and crying while reading this book, many times on the same page. In the end, what Perry achieves is not only a book about gratitude and reverence for the wonderful people and things we have in our lives, but also a pitch-perfect memoir for men and especially fathers and sons (not to say women and mothers won't love the book as well, because they will, given its universal message). This is a book that will inspire you to take stock of your life and make it a little better each day (while laughing along the way!), and if there is any justice in the publishing world, a book that will be recognized when various "best of" lists are compiled.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Perry's new farm was not much like the one he grew up on. It didn't have sheep or cows --- in fact, it had no animals at all. It lacked the noise of a big family; there was just Perry and his wife, Anneliese, and young daughter Amy. But this small family had dreams of free-range chickens, a bountiful garden and fat pigs, and set out to make their newly acquired patch of Wisconsin land home. Perry chronicles their first year on the farm in his latest book, COOP.

In the course of the year, as they settled in to farm life, something Perry and his wife are both familiar with, the family finds small joys in watching chickens and enormous joys in the birth of their baby daughter. They suffer the loss of family members and dear friends, and work hard in homeschooling Amy, raising two pigs and maintaining the land. All the while Perry still works as a freelance writer, a job that takes him away from home more often than he'd like.

As much as Perry is writing about trying to build a home for his growing family and create a certain level of sustainability and self-sufficiency, he is also writing about his childhood and the Wisconsin farm that he himself lived on growing up. Raised by caring and open-hearted parents who were members of a little known, religiously conservative Protestant group, Perry was surrounded by siblings and family friends, and was expected to work hard on the farm. He and his wife hope to instill much of his parents' wisdom in their daughters, but they also have their own strong ideas about family and farming.

In attempting to find a balance between the two worldviews, Perry shares his thoughts, his successes (raising two healthy pigs for slaughter) and failures (a 50% chicken mortality rate), his moments of pride and his storms of frustration.
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Format: Hardcover
Coop is a pretty chaotic memoir, at times, but I also found it to be warm, sometimes heartbreaking and educational. There are few books that have given me so much, without being some sort of self-help guide. I came away with a new appreciation for the small stuff in life, a new found reverence for my loved ones, more respect for animals and nature and a deeper understanding of the importance of being a good father. Oh, and Coop made me laugh a lot, as well!
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Full disclosure: I grew up in the suburbs and spend a lot of time in the city so all I know about pigs and chickens is bacon and eggs on my breakfast plate. That didn't reduce by one iota my enjoyment of this book. Michael Perry is one of those rare wordsmiths who could make a book about anything enjoyable and emminently readable. I've read four of his books now and I've always been thoroughly entertained - and enlightened. Two literary references come to mind. First, E. B. White. White was such a great stylist with language. He wrote an essay on the death of a pig that was so beautifully written, it was almost sublime. I think Michael Perry acheives that level in his writing. Second, a line in "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder. A character - Emily - asks if any human beings realize life as they live it, every minute. The narrator answers "a few saints and poets." Most don't. I doubt seriously Perry is a saint - and he would probably be the first one to tell you that. But he's definitely a poet. He has that sensibility. He writes about things so much a part of our lives that many of us take for granted. Reading him makes me slow down and pay attention. He also has a great sense of humor. I highly recommend Perry's books to anyone who appreciates good writing by someone who has something interesting to say.
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If you're a fan of Michael Perry's writing- a group I count myself as a member of- you'll find this book as funny and as touching as any of his others. Perry (for those who have yet to discover him) is a writer, musician, monologist, RN, and emergency responder who uses all these talents to eke out a modest living with his wife and daughters on a small farm near a small town in Wisconsin where he grew up. Perry's books are a series of personal histories recounting his youth, his family's history, and in the case of this volume, his attempts at trying to recreate the kind of modest farm life that he grew up in, all the while dealing with recalcitrant animals, a new family, home birth, and his self-described semi-competence at the kinds of skills needed to accomplish all that. Luckily for Perry he has a great number of relatives, friends, and neighbors, all of whom are both ready and willing to help.

Perry has the ability to be humorous without resorting to jokes and one-liners, and to be touching without ever becoming maudlin. His stories take the reader back and forth between his contemporary efforts and his life growing up on a small farm with dozens of biological, adopted, and temporary siblings, and the way he tells it, none of these experiences are or were particularly exceptional; it's just the way his life was, and is. He appreciates all of it, and manages to find the humor as well as the joy in every moment.
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