In March, we introduced a new service: the Reading Doctor. Read more about Dr Louise here. And do feel free to request further prescriptions, as needed!
Prescription #22: I love to read about life in rural places! What do you recommend?
Down on the farm
My childhood reading was filled with books about living on a farm, populated by characters who woke with the dawn and rose to feed the pigs, collect the eggs, harvest wild blackberries and make jam: Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, progressing through Charlotte’s Web to the teen travails on a horse ranch in the Heartland series.
In the predominantly urban world most of us now live in, rural life is often associated in literature with days gone by and a corresponding sense of nostalgia. Rural living is often represented as one half of a simplistic binary in fiction, defined by what it is not: as slower, purer and less complicated, set within a strong community, in harmony with the natural world. This is set against an equally simplistic representation of city living: complex, rushed, technological, individualistic and lonely.
These books offer a more complex and varied representation of rural life and those who choose it.
· Set on a farm in remote northern Wisconsin, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski tells the story of a family who, for generations, have trained a very special breed of dog.
· The effects of climate change on rural life are examined in Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, set on a run-down Appalachian farm unexpectedly visited by millions of monarch butterflies.
· Rural Australia is the setting for Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus, on a farm planted with hundreds of species of gum trees.
· Holly Ford writes about love and lust on a South Island high country farm in Blackpeak Station, one of a best-selling series of novels “packed with gutsy women who aren't afraid to take what they want and men who are worth their trouble.”
· In a rural version of King Lear, an ageing father turns over his farm to his three daughters in A Thousand Acres, for which Jane Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize.
· Carving out a home and a living on the newly colonised, harsh Canadian prairie is a life’s work in Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter, a world away from the groomed suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England.
· Her life as the runholder of Rees Valley Station is documented by Iris Scott in High Country Woman, the memoir of a remarkable woman and the place she loves. It’s reminiscent of the 1870 collection of letters published by Lady Mary Barker, Station Life in New Zealand, which recounts in delightful detail the vagaries of all aspects of life on a high-country sheep run.
· Framed by the context of genetic modification and modern technological farming practices is the story of the Fuller family, who have spent a lifetime cultivating seeds in Power County, Idaho, in Ruth L Ozeki’s novel All Over Creation.
· Harvest is the agrarian season which defines society in the novel by Jim Crace, in which the recently passed Enclosure Act transforms English rural life forever.
· In The Tally Stick, Carl Nixon’s chilling new book, off-the-grid rural life on the West Coast is the lifestyle chosen by some, and forced on others.