Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Goat Song by Brad Kessler

With tensions high during the presidential political campaign, I decided to pick a decidedly nonpolitical and noncontroversial book for the library's Tuesday and Thursday book clubs to discuss in November 2012. I already had Goat Song on my list of potential books and moved it to the top.

The book’s subtitle tells a potential reader a lot about what to expect: “A seasonal life, a short history of herding, and the art of making cheese.” Author Brad Kessler and his wife left New York City for a remote farmhouse in Vermont, where they decided to raise dairy goats and make cheese.
I am not a huge reader of nonfiction, and this is not a book I would normally have chosen to read for myself. However, I enjoyed it a great deal and learned a lot about farm life and raising goats. Although the author can wax poetic, he is factual and straightforward about the challenges of farming today. (Indeed, he is very frank about the behavior of goats; don’t be put off by the graphic goat sex that takes place early in the book.)
As a writer, I particularly enjoyed Kessler’s notes on the words we use that have goat connections. For example, “A caper. A capriole. I never really saw where the words came from but now their origin was clear: capra, the goat.” (p. 11) “[T]he cry of a goat is so haunting and dramatic our word tragedy comes from it: tragōidia in Greek – the cry of the goat.” (p. 17)
Kessler also introduced me to a great word from the Kalapalo Indians of Brazil – “ifutisu, a lack of shyness, that which we share with our house pets, our dogs and cats, a physical intimacy we rarely have with other humans”.
Goat Song is a thoughtful, pastoral read that will encourage you to slow down and appreciate small, day-to-day pleasures in life. It will also make you want some goat cheese – I recommend you have some on hand to enjoy as you make your way through Kessler’s seasonal life.

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