I love this book. Can I say it again? I LOVE THIS BOOK. I have always loved almost anything that Joel Salatin writes or says. Having read a number of his books, you’d think I’d be over him already. I mean, how many times can somebody keep saying basically the same thing over and over again before you get tired of hearing it? Well, it hasn’t happened yet for me with Joel. And it certainly hasn’t happened with his latest book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal.
In this book, Joel manages to put a completely new spin on some of his favorite rants, framing them in language that’s gripping, humorous, jolting, and convicting. He introduces the book by talking about what he calls “historical normalcy” — the way things have historically been done. In each chapter, he compares the state of things today with what used to be considered normal. And his conclusion is obvious, isn’t it? (The title. Ahem. The title.)
The good news is that (as always) Joel is savvy. He’s not calling for a return to some idealized, pre-industrial past. He’s showing us a way to incorporate the best of modern culture (including applicable technologies and sensibilities) with the best of the past in a way that honors the legacy of those gone before us and solves many problems of the present.
He knocks it out of the park from the very first chapter.
As a long-time fan of the Free-Range Kids movement, I’ve got to say that I wholeheartedly agree with Joel’s first chapter called “Children, Chores, Humility, & Health.” One of the main premises behind raising Free Range Kids is that children are quite capable. Yes, you look out for their safety, but you also recognize that kids are quite competent and able to be responsible (particularly if you teach them how to do things).
People today complain that kids have nothing to do. That’s because their strange inactivity and lack of responsibility these days is abnormal, as Joel points out:
In the Jewish tradition, boys become men at thirteen years old. Any reading of colonial American biographies reveals unheard-of intrepidity among teenagers. In face, the term “teenager” did not occur until the Industrial Revolution, when meaningful societal contributions by this age class began to wane. Until then, they were young adults. Many of the Pony Express riders were teens. These guys knew how to ride a horse, handle a gun, think on their feet, spot danger, be dependable.
His point isn’t that we should go back to the Pony Express days of mail delivery dependent on teenage riders. Rather, he’s simply demonstrating that we’ve lost sight of a basic truth. Young adults are capable, and the way we treat them today isn’t historically normal.
At the end of each chapter, Joel provides a list of suggestions for “things to do” — things that responsibly knit together the “historically normal” values of past with the present. Among those in his list for solving the problem of aimless teens is this gem:
Brainstorm entrepreneurial child-appropriate businesses — hand crafts, repair, tutoring, calligraphy, customized invitations, cleaning homes, mowing lawns, picking up rocks, hoeing weeds. The list of possibilities could fill many pages. Don’t underestimate the creativity and resourcefulness of your sixteen-year-old unleashed on the community. Stay out of the way and let her run.
Of course, Folks, This Ain’t Normal starts with that bang and keeps going from there. In subsequent chapters, he explores a veritable host of abnormalities, including:
- being disconnected from the “story” of our food (where it comes from, how it was raised, even how it was prepared)
- individual servings of food wrapped in industrial packaging
- lawns at the expense of gardens or other food-producing space
- dependence on cheap, nonrenewable energy
- an obsession with sterile food
I could keep going, but you get the idea. Each chapter is treasure trove of common sense and inspiration.
This book is so entertaining! And inspiring! And thought-provoking! My plan is to read a chapter or two out loud with my husband each day to share the sheer joy of it and promote good discussions between us about Things That Matter. Reading together is such a refreshing way to the pass the time, isn’t it?
I also want to buy copies for my family and friends for Christmas. (Shhh! Don’t tell them, or they won’t be surprised!)
So, if you want the latest and greatest read from Joel Salatin yet, check out Folks, This Ain’t Normal.
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