Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summer Book Club Selection: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

This summer, my dad decided he wanted to grow cucumbers in his garden. This is my dad’s first foray into growing “serious” vegetables. His first was last summer when he grew some miniature chilies, tomatoes and some scallions on pots on his deck. Now that my parents bought a house, his first thought was “Now I can grow some real vegetables.” I neglected to remind him that a decade ago my mom and I grew cucumbers in another house we had on Long Island and they completely took over the yard. The creeping vine strangled all the other vegetables we put in the same area but I figured planting seeds is like planting hope. You optimistically hope for the best. And grow the next vegetable at least 20 feet away.

Watching the tiny yellow flowers turn into giant cukes brings one much closer to the miracles of daily life. It’s crazy to think that just outside the kitchen window the magic happens, and even I find myself rushing out to check on the plant’s progress each day. With food prices rising more than 30 percent since the beginning of the year, it seems like growing your own food is a much more economical idea and one that could catch on. For the reasons mentioned above, we’ve chosen best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver’s novel “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” as our summer book club selection.

Kingsolver, who is mostly known for her 11 novels (including “The Poisonwood Bible”), decided to devote one year of her and her family’s life and only eat things that she could grow, trade with her neighbors or buy from local farms. This idea of sustainable living is often encouraged to subsidize trips to one’s local grocery store but very few people have done it to such depths and heights.

“This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air,” Kingsolver writes as the book’s central narrator. Also adding their perspectives in the form of sidebars are Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp, a professor of environmental sciences, and her daughter Camille offers brief essays on her then- nineteen-year-old’s perspective on the local-food project.

The author was born in Maryland, and grew up in rural Kentucky. In 2004, after more than 25 years in Tucson, Arizona, she left the southwest and now lives with her family on “a farm in southwestern Virginia where they raise free-range chickens, turkeys, Icelandic sheep, and an enormous vegetable garden.”

We're meeting Monday, August 18 at 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall. To R.S.V.P., e-mail me at

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