CBR5 Review #27: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

Why I Read It: I actually had the pleasure of meeting Kristin Kimball and her husband, Mark, last spring, when they came to my college to give a reading. I was one of two students in the English department asked to have dinner with them, so I got to get a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at who they both really are. I hadn’t read the book at that point, and now I’m mad at myself that it took me so long to get to it!

My Rating: 5 stars

Summary: In the 90s, NYC-based writer Kimball traveled to the Pennsylvania countryside to interview Mark, a charismatic young farmer, for a story. After falling in love with him, she abandoned her city life and moves with him to upstate New York, where they began a life together on a large farm–one of the first to implement the complete-diet CSA model (meat, veggies, dairy, etc). This memoir is about their first year or so on the farm, following Kimball’s transformation from city slicker to country girl and exploring life, love and getting dirty.

My Review: I loved this book so, so much. I think I would have loved it even if I hadn’t met the Kimballs before reading it, but knowing them only served to enhance my enjoyment. First of all, they make great characters. Theirs is a true love, the kind you can easily feel on the page and that is quickly apparent in person, too. They play off each other so well, and clearly just adore each other despite their significant personality differences. Their romance is at the center of the memoir, and it’s interesting enough to carry the plot. Kimball is really relatable–smart, funny, and totally out of her element–and Mark…well, Mark is one of my newest literary crushes. He’s sweet and romantic (in addition to being stubborn and a little irrational). He’s also hilarious, both on the page and off, and their dynamic together is really fun.

I also love how this book depicts farming realistically and honestly. It’s so easy to idealize going back to the land, but Kimball really makes you aware of how challenging and frustrating it can be. She clearly loves what she does but makes it clear that it’s hard work, and this book is just as much of a warning to naive would-be farmers as it is a love letter to the work. It was so cool to see how farming really works, and especially in the way the Kimballs do it (that is, with an emphasis on traditional practices, horse-drawn ploughs vs. big tractors, and sustainability).

Kimball also does a wonderful job at interweaving themes of love and identity and community into the farm-related stories. This is a book about farming, of course, but it’s also just as much of a book about finding oneself, learning to love (and compromise), and discovering a home. Kimball’s simplistic voice and liberal use of humor keep these themes from becoming overly sentimental–I was emotionally engaged but I never felt like the narrative was cloying.

Should You Read It? Absolutely. It’s a near-perfect memoir full of heart and humor and I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you’re not someone with a pre-existing interest in farming.

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