book reviews

Country Living Books

There are three types of people who live out in the country: farmers, crazy intellectuals, and poor people. They're distinguished primarily by who (or what) they have sex with, and by whether they keep their chainsaw in the barn, in the basement in a custom carrying case, or under their pillow in their trailer. There's a lot to know about living out in the country. These books all cover different aspects of the unending nightmare that is country living.

Road Repair Handbook:
The Complete Guide to Fixing Roads and Driveways
by Roderick D. Johnston


I f your property is far enough out in the country, you probably have to drive on a worn-out private road to get there. Driving your Prius back and forth across two-foot deep potholes with tree branches scraping off your pinstriping and briars getting tangled up in your spinners is probably fun at first, but after the first 10,000 times the novelty starts to wear thin. This book tells you what to do and what not to do when repairing your road.

Rule number 1 is: Maintaining a road is expensive. You want to bring your road up to municipal standards so the county will take over the maintenance. Rule number 2 is: If your road is shared by others, the politics of getting them to help pay for it is by far the most difficult part.

The author warns that adding more rock is not the solution to surface instability problems. He explains how and why potholes form, and the various problems with asphalt and concrete and how to repair them. He even mentions more urban-style techniques like cold planing. In general, though, this book isn't detailed enough to teach you how to engineer and build a sophisticated road. In the end, what his advice boils down to is this: if you're at the level where you have to read this book, you're better off hiring somebody who actually knows what they're doing and paying them to build you a good road.

June 7, 2010

Homeowner's Complete Guide to the Chainsaw
by Brian J. Ruth and Jen W. Ruth


I f you have trees on your property (or if you happen to be a tree yourself), you know the horrible truth: trees die. Every year, at least one in every fifty trees will die just from age alone. Out in the country, it's not practical to pay someone to take them away--you have to cut them up with a chainsaw. This well-written book, full of good quality color photos, shows you how to use one without chopping off random parts of your body, how to maintain it, how to get the tree to fall in the right direction, and most importantly, when to use some other tool or call a pro. They do tend to get over-enthusiastic, using chainsaws for things like trimming hedges and milling a log into lumber in addition to cutting down trees. There's no guidance on how to swear and curse like they do on TV, and nothing about how to move a fallen tree to where it's safe to cut. The focus is exclusively on how to use the chainsaw safely.

I do have a quibble about how they use rope. In my part of the country, I have to use ropes on almost every tree. Although I'm not an expert, it seems to me these guys are doing it wrong: a rope is not used to pull down a tree. It's used when you absolutely, positively have to prevent a tree from going out into the street, onto power lines, or into the path of another tree. For that, you need two ropes, not one. (If you really want to pull a tree down, I have heard that the best way is to chop the roots with an axe and pull the tree over using a chain.) But this is a minor fault. I would consider this book to be essential for any aspiring home lumberjack.

Update: After reading We Are Ruled by Professors by Victor Davis Hanson, it's clear that many of my colleagues in academia would also benefit from reading this book.

July 3, 2010

Bitch Unleashed:
The Harsh Realities of Goin' Country
by Nola L. Kelsey


T ravails of a lady from San Diego who up and moved to a small town in South Dakota, and her attempts to deal with unruly animals, idiot neighbors, incompetent repairmen, and vicious, unforgiving vegetation. Nola Kelsey is witty and has a good talent for telling a story. Think Erma Bombeck with a tattoo, not Eva Gabor. This self-published book, full of glarin', unintentional grammatical errors and misspellin's, might have benefited from an editor, but it's still a fun read.

November 3, 2007

Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country, 5th ed.
by Les Scher and Carol Scher


T his book describes the legal issues involved in buying property in rural areas, focusing on the western part of America where water and mineral rights are an issue. Most of the legal stuff, like financing, contracts, escrow, and assessments, is common to all real estate transactions, and will already be familiar to anyone who has bought a house. But there are some issues, like access roads, watersheds, and mine subsidence, that city slickers just don't need to worry about, but are vital out West.

Storey's Basic Country Skills:
A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance
by John and Martha Storey

(no rating yet)

M ost of the stuff in this book is for beginning farm people: what kind of plants to grow, what animals to buy, how to cook and preserve food, what kind of wild animals are out there in the country, and how to keep the wild animals away from your plants, your animals, and your food. It's not all 19th-century stuff as you might think: there are sections on how to install solar panels, doing electrical wiring, and tons of other stuff. It tells you how to milk a cow, build a chicken coop, and bake bread, but not the really important stuff like how to set up a satellite dish on your front porch or how to get your refrigerator up on cinder blocks. A hundred years ago, almost everyone knew the stuff in this book. What you will mostly learn from this huge book is that living on a farm is a lot of hard work. Never having been on a functioning farm, I can't vouch for the accuracy of anything the authors say. But if I ever buy a farm, this is one book I will try to take with me.

Disclaimer: I have not read this book in its entirety.