Yesterday afternoon I ate my lunch outside. As I sat basking in the warmth of the sun, I read, re-read actually, an essay from Mike Madison's Blithe Tomato, a book I read at the beginning of the year. It is a book that surprised me. I expected the short essays to be a little more frivolous perhaps, something you read once and toss, perhaps more strident in a my-way-is-better-than-your-way fashion, or perhaps I expected the over-educated kind of one-upmanship I find characteristic of writers like Bill Bryson, writers whose prose is so smart and so clever that they can't seem to help admiring how clever they are. The book was none of those things, at least not to my reading, and it promises to be a book I will continue to pick up and delve into occasionally, with essays that are astute, often contemplative, but also kind and forgiving of human follies as well as short and easy to read. I love the way the essays open a door that lets my thoughts wander down their own paths.
Even though Mike Madison is a farmer and the book is marketed as containing essays about food and farming, this is not strictly true. Yes the essays do revolve around farming, farmers markets, farmers, and people who shop at farmer's market, but their subject is not so narrowly defined. The essays are really about life and about humans with all their strengths and weaknesses, follies and foibles. But the essays are written with compassion and humor and the author is able to turn that compassion and that humor on himself as well as upon others. It is a book that needs to be savored slowly. It is a fairly easy read, and the focus, for the most part is on the small, the routine, the everyday. But small things can sometimes point us to something greater. I enjoy reading this book most when taken in small doses, as a bit of a of a pick-me-up during the day.
When read straight through, without time to reflect and savor the best parts, the essays tend to run together and turn into something less than the whole. I don't mean that in a bad way, I mean to say that it is a book that should be enjoyed essay by essay, allowing time for reflection, much the same way a beautiful spring day is more memorable when one stops to smell the fresh air, soak up the sunshine, pause and reflect on the goodness of life. When we rush onward without pause, too preoccupied to celebrate the small things, we too easily become stressed and overwhelmed, and the beautiful and the good seem to fade into the background, seeming, to our inundated neural pathways, to be less than they really are and perhaps too simple to be believed.