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United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties, and Handmade Bitters: A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement Paperback – August 31, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“Reighley’s book is your magical wardrobe into the Narnia of Americana. If it isn’t in here, it isn’t part of the heritage. Always fun, fully informed, astutely researched, and extremely generous in scope, United States of Americana is the lexicon of a laudable way of life.” (Wesley Stace, also known as John Wesley Harding)
“Encompassing, engaging, and definitive. . . . Reighley shows us the Americana movement from the inside. . . . Perfect bedside reading for anyone seeking to inch their way toward a more enriched and rewarding lifestyle.” (John Roderick, from The Long Winters)
“United States of Americana reminds us of many things we need reminding of. . . . This book will hopefully show the reader that while our hands have perhaps softened they are not just for eating, typing, and tying our shoes.” (Chris Bray, co-founder of Billykirk)
“A fantastically thorough handbook. . . . Reighley proves that old is the new new and that fringe interests will blend into the future, making the mash-up of the now.” (Faythe Levine, author of Handmade Nation: The Rise of D.I.Y. Art, Craft & Design)
“United States of Americana is Foxfire magazine for the Hipster Handbook audience.” (Lance Ledbetter, founder of Dust-to-Digital)
“Capturing that “old weird America” with a decidedly 21st century spin, Reighley guides his audience through the intricacies of cocktails and canning parties, where to pick up a good pair of boots, and why Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music is essential listening.” (Justin Gage, of Aquarium Drunkard)
“Reighley’s tome is a font of knowledge. . . . [We have an] affection for this call to reclaim our scrappy American individualism.” (Modern Tonic)
“[Takes] us back to the place where we knew how to make things that would last, how to take care of them — and even knew the people who made them. . . . His entertaining, informed chapter on music is a micro field guide in itself.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“It’s hard to imagine a simpler, slower time—but plenty of us are trying to make a return. . . . [United States of Americana] can help you recapture a bit of America as it used to be, before the days of Internets and iPhones. (Uncrate.com)
“[An] exploration of an idiosyncratic but undeniable right-now culture movement. . . . Reighley’s like a wool-shirted, moonshine-sipping uncle tying up trends and connecting the return-to-the-good-olde-days dots from his post on some picturesque porch. It’s a really fun read.” (Seattle Metropolitan Magazine)
“For any American who’s ever thought about playing a vinyl record, making some jam, or ordering a pair of custom-made boots, this semi-encyclopedia to the new age of ‘essential pragmatism’ and craftsmanship is a delight. . . . Comprehensive, well-written, and enjoyable.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Reighley shows how working a little to find the tried and true can feel more deeply satisfying than buying into today’s fast-paced consumer culture.” (The Oregonian (Portland))
“A comprehensive guide to young America’s return to the ways of generations past, with immersive chapters on such activities as raising chickens, facial hair grooming, and burlesque.” (Portland Mercury)
“The resurgence in old-school Americana is part of a national trend, one thoroughly and captivatingly mapped [in United States of Americana]. . . . Reighley’s chronicle flows with...ease and enticement.” (Seattle Magazine)
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Top Customer Reviews
Lack of Gender
While I thoroughly enjoyed reading about men's facial hair, the different types of mustaches (really!), the origins of each liquor, and almost every sidebar, I was disappointed to see there was little, if no, female influence on any of these topics. Sure, knitting and crafts scream "the woman's job," but regarding clothes, grooming, leather work, and even music, historical influences and subsequent revelations were male-oriented. Where are the women's trends? Hats, fascinators and headpieces are all making enormous resurgences in women's fashion; it would have fit nicely between straight razors and bowler hats. It would have been nice to read how today's movement is affecting the "other" gender, since I consider myself a woman participating in this new American roots movement. Gender's not even mentioned facetiously until the crafts chapter. Mentioning Martha Stewart doesn't count, and boiling women down to crafts and burlesque is predictable.
It is clear that Reighley is a music lover. The passion (albeit, a bit of snootiness) that shines through in his chapter "Songs of Pioneers" is obvious. But it leaks a little into other chapters, such as "Design and Décor." Why bring up Jon Langford (a whole section on him) and the American music community AGAIN, in the Design and Décor chapter? Completely off topic! Could have omitted those 2 pages entirely - or plopped them in the music chapter.
In addition to the catchy style of writing, I like being able to put names like Velocipede and Dirigible with their odd object counterparts. Some parts of the book were incredibly informative and fun to read: topics such as mustache variations, as mentioned before, types of liquors, early American musicians, and types of fibrous crafts. Honestly, the epilogue was one of the best parts of the book - I just wish Reighley had imparted more of that sincerity and personal touch to the rest of the book.
Bottom Line: I'm Just Not Cool Enough
The overall tone of the book, while well written, witty and fun to read, is a bit snobbish. I feel like I'm just not cool enough to read this book or take part in this movement - even though I'm 26, lived in Brooklyn for 8 years, and am a dirt-broke, starving artist. Furthermore, I keep chickens, have a garden, can and preserve food... and yet I felt these topics were lacking when it came to the "United States of Americana." Where is the part about keeping a garden in the "Food" chapter? And how are we not talking about being green, conserving resources, leaning more towards self-sufficiency and sustainability as a motivator in this new roots movement? I'd hedge my bets that the state of the economy is what is inadvertently encouraging a lot of young folks (my generation specifically) to this sort of lifestyle, in conjunction with a desire to tread lighter on the planet. So why do I feel like this movement is only for the hip and the wealthy?
Overall, a nice, easy read, but I feel like it lacked in the true heart and soul of the movement...every day, normal people trying to live simpler lives.
That said, the book reads like a very-over-extended article for an in-flight magazine. There is no depth of analysis here, and what insight it does provide is over and done by the end of the introduction. The sections connected to old companies like Filson or Carhartt read like they were lifted straight from PR pieces. I was hoping for something that looked deeper and made the larger cultural connections, or offered some critique, but this falls flat on anything beyond "look! cool!"
Again, if you are looking for a very basic field guide, this will do. Anyone expecting anything beyond the 101 will be disappointed.
There's a paradox in all this: what's the big Story in a bunch of people doing old stuff? As the answers unfold, it becomes clear that all of these quirky old-fashioned hobbies (some of which have turned into lucrative professions) are a vivid (and mostly authentic) search of meaning, intimacy and a sense of realness against the backdrop of Facebook America (where your friends literally are electric). Even as Walmart and other huge corporations own more and more of our commerce, our government, our time and our culture, the underground of DIY artisans is burgeoning too, from your local farmer's market to Etsy.com, and even as YouTube and Pandora transform what it means to consume music, odds are there are more and more artists in your community finding greater satisfaction busking blues, bluegrass or old-time music, or trading in their turntables for belly dance and burlesque costumes.
In short, this is an ambitious but unforgettably effective book about who we are in 2010 as we as a nation mine our traditions for anything we can reuse or recycle that will make our lives feel realer than our Friends Lists and Status Updates and credit ratings and poll numbers. And, best of all, Reighley accompanies all his thought-provoking research and cultural critic work with practical DIY tips, in case all this reading about backyard chickens got you hankering for a coop of your own. In the end, this book may not change your life, but it might well inspire you to LIVE MORE, and tell you exactly how to get started.