Monday, May 3, 2010

Goat Song: An unlikely and compelling walk through the Vermont hills with goats

Brad Kessler’s Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese was just what I was hoping for when I picked it up. It was an interesting story about intelligent (and very likeable) people who chose to change their lives. There is no critical moment that forces Brad and his wife Dona’s move from New York to rural Vermont: the longing was there, and when the opportunity came, they simply took it.

The story of their first year with their goats is absolutely engrossing. Since they are so central to the book, the individual personalities of their first two milking goats, Hannah and Lizzie, are documented in extraordinary detail. In fact, the only real “antagonist” in this story becomes an uncooperative goat, which in turn becomes the vehicle through which we see the author’s maturation as a pastoralist.

The author’s musings on the significance of herding to the development of human society were very interesting, but little of the history was new to me. I enjoyed the author’s adventures in cheese making, and wished I could taste one of his artisanal tommes, to taste the flowers and grasses of the previous summer in a wedge of cheese. The author’s asides into the Christology of cheese making, and the relationship between cheese and monasticism, however, were a bit more far-fetched – and that’s coming from someone who studied medieval history as an undergraduate. I squirmed a bit as Kessler got in touch with his “inner monk.”

For a couple of crazy minutes during an insomnia-induced reading session, I actually thought about getting one of those cute Nubian goats, which tells you how wrapped up I became in Kessler’s narrative. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes microhistories, to foodies, to non-fiction lovers and to anyone who enjoys a good animal story. So that’s Book 2 in the What’s in a Name 3 Reading Challenge: a musical term. My next book is the food title, as I’m reading Lizzie Collingham’s food history of the Indian subcontinent, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors.

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