Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by Seth Rosenbaum

The Blueberry Years
by Jim Minick
Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press
August 2010
Hardcover: 352 pages, ISBN: 978-0312571429

When were you forced (probably) to read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden for the first time? Middle or high school? The lesson plan sounded like this: man leaves society, goes into the woods, lives a self-sufficient life in a cabin made with his own hands, gains insight into the nature of the "civilized" world, then returns one day to Concord, Massachusetts to write one of the most famous and enduring works in American letters. If you came back to Walden on your own volition, you found that the initial school-story was more or less true, but what made you want to read, and reread Walden, was not the clear, self-inflicted separation, but the myriad points of contact and communion Thoreau found with society while he was supposed to be isolated from its center. Thoreau "lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor," but he spent plenty of time during his 26 month "sojourn into the wilderness" hanging out in the center of Concord, catching up on gossip and local news. Thoreau chose to live differently, but he was no misanthrope and he never swore off his roots. He simply, and elegantly, found a way to see those roots differently.

It is Thoreau’s uncanny ability to create distance and intimacy with both society and self that makes him the ideal muse for Jim Minick’s The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family. Besides Jim and Sarah Minick, it is Thoreau who presides over the Minick blueberry root and bush adventure—their decision to leave suburban Maryland, and the financial security of two full-time salaries in education, in order to plant 1000 blueberry bushes, with the ultimate goal of living off the profits of their farm. Set amid 66 chapters of narrative are numerous "Blue Interludes," as Minick calls them, in which the author explains, economically and coherently, aspects of the science, history, and aesthetics of blueberry cultivation. Minick writes,

[s]ure it’s blue, blue-jean blue, bluebird blue, deep blue of these blue mountains. And if untouched, it should also have a veil of white, a cloud cover over this ocean globe... Before all of this, before the purple and blue and green, a blueberry really is white. And this white really is a bell, the bell of a blossom that rings and rings the invisible din of scent, all of it pealing the blue sky with waves of sweetness, all of it music to a bumblebee’s ears.
Minick grew up around blueberry bushes, but Minick, and the reader, are learning about shades of "blue" as each chapter in this adventure progresses.

What makes The Blueberry Years thoroughly Thoreauvian is Minick’s ability to see, and more importantly convey, his world through the minutiae of his experiences as a blueberry farmer. If you’re a blueberry fanatic, this book might disappoint—it’s more memoir than farmer’s almanac. While there is plenty of joy and sweet accomplishment in The Blueberry Years, Minick is at his best when he reflects on the darker stains of blues—the recurring themes of loneliness, religious uncertainty, the search for community. He is both a responsible farmer and global citizen, totally organic, unlike his exceedingly good natured, loveable, but DDT spraying neighbor, Joe. Minick is concerned about harming the land, and the world, and this concern ramifies as the memoir proceeds. But Minick is no saint, and the honesty with which he conveys his hot temper and acute awareness of the economics behind The Blueberry Years makes him a true, organic character, fit to match his farming technique.

The darkest stain of all is not blue, but black—melancholy. The dream diverted, given-up, the farm sold because of blight, economic failure, and the personal toll the labor had taken on Jim and has wife Sarah. Fear not, no spoiler alert necessary: the title and the table of contents make clear that the blueberry "years" are part of the past. The fruit of Minick’s labor—blue roots planted, tended, pruned, loved, and finally sold, wither and die quickly in the hands of a new, less conscientious owner, thus ending the book.

Minick refers to Thoreau more than twenty times in this book, and quotes him at some length. The most compelling conversation with Thoreau comes in the Blue Interlude, "Picking with HD":

Despite his curmudgeonly stuffiness, his convolutedly beautiful sentences, and his sometimes contradictory habits, Henry David Thoreau has shaped me and helped define how I live in this world... For HD shows me that berry picking is a holy act. He finds equal value in both the gathering and the eating. In Wild Fruits, he notes the "value of these wild fruits is not in the mere possession or eating of them, but in the sight and enjoyment of them" and also in the journey, the exploration. Everywhere he picks, from field to burnt-over forest, from swamp to mountaintop, he finds Nature "inviting us to picnic." And this fruit is her holy body that we "pluck and eat in remembrance of her."
There are sound structural and ideological reasons behind Minick’s decision to pay homage to HD. Thoreau played a bit of a trick on his reader, condensing the story of Walden to read as if it had taken place in one calendar year. Minick acknowledges a similar act of compression, in "the service of art and good storytelling." It is a testament to Minick’s engaging writing that he literally brings his blueberry bushes to life and blossom in what reads like a very short journey. It is difficult to believe, when we put this book down, that twelve years have passed, and thousands of pounds of berries have been picked and consumed.

But the intellectual friend and spiritual guide Minick finds in Thoreau is what really makes The Blueberry Years worth reading. "For Thoreau, and for all pickers," Minick writes, "the holy acts of gathering and eating transform us, help us to know that we, too, sometimes can become gods..."—no small aspiration, or accomplishment. By conversing with a titan of the past, Minick finds his way through an uncertain present, and succeeds in bringing this reader, who lacks a green thumb, into the conversation. Like Thoreau, the Minicks forego comfortable surroundings to pursue a pastoral ideal. And, like Thoreau, they ultimately return and write a memoir, a minor Walden, the final fruit of their hard labor.

August 11, 2011