Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Book Review: Traditional Country Skills by Sheila Buff

I picked this book up at the library to aid me in my quest to "reskill" myself. As I'm sure you've heard many other homesteaders (or wannabe homesteaders in my case) say, the first thing I often think of when trying to do things more simply or in a more eco-conscious way is to ask myself, "how did they do this 100 years ago?" I had actually been looking for Storey's Basic Country Skills, but it was out for repairs, so when I saw this book I decided to check it out.

The book is divided into three basic sections: The Land, The Homestead, and Leisure Activities. Each of these has an introduction by the author giving a very brief background and putting into perspective the changes that these skills have undergone over the past century or so. Within each category there is an AMAZING amount of information, everything from making your own seed potato cutter to making whiskey. The illustrations are all black and white, at least some being actual historical images from catalogs, newspapers, etc. Just looking at the book is wonderful!

For me, the book was a little bit awkward in its organization. I'm not talking the breakdown of sections, but the pages... they felt cluttered to me, and it was a little difficult for my brain to digest everything. I was awed by just how self-sufficient farmers of the previous centuries were, though I shouldn't have been. Some of the various machines in the book were things I never would have even though to make (i.e., the seed potato cutter I mentioned earlier) but were valuable and time-saving nonetheless, I'm sure. Every page seemed to have something to fascinate me, even if it wasn't something I neccessarily needed to know.

The real question is, did it help me in my reskilling? Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of help there. I do plan to check the book out again to reread it with the hope that a second look at it won't be quite so overwhelming to me, but the book is really about farmers and for farmers. The majority of the book is dedicated to things like livestock and barn management, farming equipment, and the like, none of which I have the space for on my very small suburban plot. If you've got some land, it could be a very interesting source of information for you, but if you're homesteading on an urban or suburban plot, you'll mostly just be looking at the pictures...

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