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Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese Hardcover – June 23, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist (Birds in Fall; Lick Creek) Kessler's account of tending a small herd of milking goats in Vermont captures both the lush, poetic paradise of rural life and the raw, unrelenting drama of dairying. Kessler, a Saab-driving ex-Manhattanite, purchases two Nubian goats, breeds them and helps his wife, Dona, a trained doula, attend to the birth of four goat kids the following spring. The amusing zoomorphic and anthropomorphic descriptions, where goats forage as if they were at a sample sale and milk-fed kids stagger œlike street junkies, dissipate as Kessler endures a season of goat wrangling, haying and hunting coyotes. Kessler gives the legal aspects of unpasteurized cheese a cursory inspection; his devotion centers on a budding relationship with animals, the earth and goat cheese. He's a back-to-the-land naturalist, who supports his detailed personal observations with extensive research as he explores the cultural, historical and biological aspects of pastoralism. While the tome's lengthy poetic journal entries on animal husbandry and cheese making hardly qualify as a comprehensive manual, the observant, unsanctimonious read is bound to inspire hobby farmers and consummate cheese lovers. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A wonderous little miracle of a book.”--Tom Ashbrook, National Public Radio

"Goat Song offers a meditation on the pastoral life…that will make an urbanite regret having missed the experience.”— The Wall Street Journal

"The writing is so beautiful you want to reread sentences to savor it."--San Francisco Chronicle

"A multi-layered, smart, erudite, and incredibly well written book."--Christian Science Monitor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Fourth Edition edition (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416560998
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416560999
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #682,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Deborah V VINE VOICE on July 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up at a local bookstore because of the title. Novelist Brad Kessler lives in Manhattan, but has never felt really big city and longs for a Walden Pond of his own--fewer people and more of nature's abundance. He and his wife Dona have a weekend retreat in West Virginia, but as they are in the process of buying it burns down.

After years of searching they find their own Walden Pond in Vermont. A dilapidated old farm house with beautiful views, 75 acres of land, an orchard, a pond and and a brook!

Although neither Brad nor Dona know much about farming, they learn by helping neighbors and photographing farms. This book chronicles their first years there with the dairy goats they fall in love with. Mr. Kessler writes about the goats and their quirks, but also the return to nature and getting your food from the animals. The freshness of milk, the almost mystical qualities of your own home made cheese.

You'll find journal entries about the goats routine (Hannah, Nisa, Pie and Lizzie). Information on the intertwining of goats and human history. Lyrical writing on pastoral living. Kessler writes of the poetry of making cheese. And in a chapter entitled "Service" you may learn far more than you ever wanted to about goat sex. There are also some great scenes of trying to figure out whether or not a goat is in heat and of course the memorable birthing scenes!

The story does indeed provide a lyrical poetic mixture of science, history, and goat care through birthing, living, and death as the Kesslers nourish and protect their goats from predators (coyotes, meningeal worms), nourish them with both love and care, and of course the Kesslers love affair with cheese!

A great read about the simple life which turns out to not be so simple after all, but regardless, turns out to be incredibly rewarding.
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Format: Hardcover
I came upon this book via NPR; a few minutes in a traffic jam, listening to Brad Kessler (whose other work I sadly don't know - yet) doing the requisite promo interview, and I knew that I had to read it. The interviewer seemed to find the idea of a former New York resident, a successful man, giving "all that" up to embrace a pastoral life in Vermont - well, let's just say that the interviewer's voice betrayed his possibly amused disbelief, even if his careful words didn't. They talked about keeping goats, and about cheese making, about how the author's wife felt about all that. Kessler was polite and articulate, but even in those few minutes of conversation, I got the impression that the questions being asked were about all the wrong things. Turns out, I was right.

On the surface, "Goat Song" is a book about learning a new way of life and some new skills. A writer and his artist wife move to Vermont, decide to keep goats, and learn how to make cheese. It isn't an uncommon story. A great many similar stories have been written up in one form or another. But Kessler is not a common writer or thinker, and his story is ultimately not only a story but a meditation - a readable, fascinating, honest, often lyrically written (no, let me take that back - "lyrical" makes it sound self-conscious and precious. Kessler's prose is anything but!), often moving, and always deeply mature meditation about, you know --- meaning. About not only things-as-they-are, but also about context. About the value of work and the joy of just being...

OK, OK, I'm not helping. I see that. There's a lot of fascinating information about goats and and about cheese making and about the history of the pastoral tradition, too. Let's just say I couldn't put the book down, and when I passed it along to friends, they couldn't put it down either, and then they started buying copies for their friends....

In short, I loved "Goat Song." I still have to pass on a few more copies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the many questions asked by Brad Kessler in this surprisingly poetic book.

He provides the answer: "It starts out raw and unformed and tries to reform itself over time. It is constantly corrected and rebuffed, purged of blemishes and taints and sins".

If you think Goat Song is just about goats, think again. Yes the goats are present and yes we learn much about them, but they are but a path, one that leads to a deep and romantic contemplation of life itself.

The book is dedicated to Annie Dillard and something of her spirit seems to hover in its pages. Kessler revels in the use of esoteric vocabulary, as does Dillard, though not to the degree that he would invoke the word "thigmotropic" as she unfortunately has.

Here are some examples of his wordsmith's art...

"Thunder growled outside, the sky turned suddenly tenebrous".

"The days were lovely then, cool and sere".

"The rocks are green schist and round, both about ten pounds".

"They gazed Talmudically across the mountains while they chewed their cud".

"Our milk is local and autochthonous".

"I didn't recognize the dip or swale or glade mantled in its mattress of snow".

The first two are beautiful; the third appropriately scientific; the fourth sketchy (how does a goat gaze "Talmudically" and what does this look like?); the fifth and sixth perhaps tautologies (local, autochthonous, dip, swale).

But it doesn't really matter. As with Dillard (who also likes the word "swale" - "The swale drained the dunes like a vein" - The Maytrees) it all flows together in a poetic prose that engages even as it challenges.
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