May 8, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Normally when I write a review on here my thoughts are somewhat organized, but not this time. Now I have to write a review that has been colored by Jacki's opinion on it from a few days ago. Before her review I was completely prepared to write a glowing review, and after reading her thoughts I felt that I should look at it more critically.

Jacki's complaints (if I recall correctly, I am being lazy and not re-reading her review) were that Kingsolver was sanctimonious and preachy, and that the information she presents is nothing new. That part of it is subjective; it was completely new to me. I knew that organic foods are supposed to be better and healthier, but I didn't know about the ethical issues behind it and the sinister actions of the big farm culture. So for people like me, I think this was very informative on a variety levels, and has definitely inspired me to look at new ways of doing things. As I read the book I read several pieces out loud to Brad, and now he's reading it, which is a very rare event. Usually if Brad "reads" a book it's an audiobook that plays in the background while he plays a video game and watches a movie simultaneously. If I can get Brad to read a book, it must be some kind of book indeed.

As far as being sanctimonious and preachy, I did not get that from Kingsolver herself. In fact in more than one place she says that she realizes not everyone has a way to garden, much less a 40 acre farm, and jokes about how it must seem so easy for someone like her to do this for a year but she recognizes that we don't all have the resources she does. Her daughter Camille's pieces at the end of each chapter though I found highly preachy and condescending. I just know if I met Camille IRL I'd hate her guts. She strikes me as very priveleged, stuck up, and a real know-it-all. In her defense though, she was only 19 or so when she wrote the pieces, and may have just been trying to live up to her revered mother and her place in life as the daughter of a celebrated author.

I found this book fascinating. Beyond the information about genetically modified foods and such, I know NOTHING about gardening or farm life, and I loved how she not only described her actions and routines in the garden, but told stories about her relationships with different vegetables and such. I also really enjoyed reading about the progress of her younger daughter's chicken business and her own efforts to get turkeys to have sex. Also I never knew cheese was so easy to make, and have reserved a book at the library about cheese making so I can try it.

I have read most of Kingsolver's books, starting when I was in high school. I loved her first three, usually referred to as her Arizona books, but I was bewildered by Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible. I know many people think of The Poisonwood Bible as an amazing and beautiful work, but I found it annoying and overlong. In those two books her voice had completely changed from the Barbara Kingsolver I knew and loved. She had turned from a lovable down-home but wonderfully enlightening persona to a professorial type obsessed with moths and trees. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she brings both of these personalities together.

There are two things I wish she'd done differently. I wish she'd kept her husband and daughter out of it, they only muddled things up. Also at the end of the book she mentions that a lot had happened during the year in their lives, but none of that came up in the meat of the book while it was happening. It was all gardening and animals and dinner parties. I think if she'd included some of the events of their lives, it would have been an extremely long book, but it would also have been a better one, and might even give me a better opinion of her daughter.

I highly recommend this book for anyone that is curious about the organic movement but doesn't know much about it. I also recommend it for those who aren't interested in the organic movement because they know nothing about it. This book will turn you around, no question.


  1. I read and reviewed this recently and I found it to be very interesting and imformative, but I think Kingsolver should have approached her book from a different angle. Instead of preaching to us of how her family's way is so amazing and endlessly talking about her life, she should have talked more about practical ways every American family can apply these principles to their homes. There were not enough "real world" applications in this book. Face it. Kingsolver and her family live in a organic fantasy world. Those who live in fantasyland can't easily relate to whose who don't.

  2. I have to agree with you, that she should have left her husband and daughter out of it...I found their little blurbs to be distracting.

    Overall, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had never read anything else about the organic, locally-grown food movement. She does pack a lot of information into the book, but by Chapter 5 I gave up reading it because I was bored.

    But it is important for us to start asking questions of the food that I have to read food labels religiously, I find myself questioning why they have to add certain ingredients.

  3. Thanks for this review, Marie. I think I'm going to have to read this this summer. Being purposefully ignorant isn't wise, right?

  4. Ronnica, I'd highly recommend The Omnivore's Dilemma over this one! Not that I hated Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I just found Omnivore's Dilemma to be much better done.

    I've also read Plenty (great eat local stuff, but similar to this book, I came out with a mild dislike of the authors), and Twinkie Deconstructed (about the global food industry, which I found interesting, but rambling). I'm kind of a sucker for books on this topic, I guess!

    Marie, I found your review really interesting. It's funny because I totally agreed with everything you said, yet for some reason didn't love the book (I'd give it 3 stars). I think you did a wonderful job really highlighting the strengths of this book. Sometimes when I get annoyed by certain aspects of a book, I tend to devalue the rest of the otherwise perfectly good parts :)


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