University of Nebraska Press: 204 pp., $23.95
"The essay is an open, leisurely form, somewhat allergic to adventure, certainly opposed to sensationalism." Madden begins his far-reaching essays with small things and moves outward to death, the value of a simple life, an operation on his young son. Words form constellations; they glitter on the pages. The word "asymptosy" appears in his mind and he asks: Where do we begin and end? What do we look like? "Even from one infinitesimal moment to the next, we are not the same. Yet we endure, somehow intact." There is a religiosity here, though not the usual kind. It's a glow on the horizon, a low light, something to think our way toward.
The Town That
How One Community
in Local Food
Rodale: 224 pp., $24.99
Welcome to Hardwick, Vt., pop. 3,200, median income 25% below the state average and unemployment 40% higher. From 1890 to 1920, more than 300 companies mined granite in Hardwick; one was the biggest in the world. When cheaper building materials put most of these companies out of business, Hardwick settled into decline. But in the 1960s and 1970s, back-to-the-landers headed to Vermont, started gardens, raised livestock and pieced together lives barely as secure as those of the old-timers with generations of experience in rural living. Then came the entrepreneurs. Hardwick is home to many successful food companies, producing things such as organic and heirloom seeds, cheese or compost. Some have become multimillion-dollar national and even international businesses.
Ben Hewitt, a native Vermonter, goes behind the lingo -- locavore, sustainable, green -- to show us how one town feels its way to a resilient economy. He reveals the tensions between old-timers and newcomers; he questions the ethics of making food that locals can't afford, as well as the media hype over the locavore movement. In the end, he lands squarely in favor of the hopeful alternatives created by "agrepreneurs." These pages are full of charac- ters: charismatic leaders, philosophers, quiet activists. It's a brave and well-reported book; these are, after all, his neighbors.
Portrait of the
Writer as a
the French by
Dalkey Archive: 208 pp., $13.95
The writer at the center of this delightfully acerbic novel prostitutes herself. For money, lots of it, she writes a book about Tobold the Hamburger King, worth billions. It will, she reasons, only be a "short pause" in her "creative path," but how quickly she is seduced by it all! Soon, she is singing his praises: "The Hamburger King is a straightforward man. The Hamburger King doesn't cover up his mercenary deeds. . . ." In just 10 months, the writer is in a "saccharine daze" while the Hamburger King forms a charity and espouses good deeds that look a lot like evil ones. "After big business would come big feelings. Such is the prognosis made by hearts that open up." As for the writer, well, she sold her soul.
Salter Reynolds is a writer in Los Angeles.