Friday, January 06, 2006

Annie Proulx--Nonfiction Titles

I've recently discovered that some of Annie Proulx's non-fiction is still in print and available. The Literary Encyclopedia's biography of Proulx presents this: the mid-1970s, Proulx moved to Canaan on the US-Canada border, and the question of how to make a living while staying in a remote rural area seemed to be answered by writing. She wrote journalism and published a series of how-to manuals on cooking, gardening and wine-making. Even though this work was undertaken mainly as a means of financial support, it also reflected the author's interest in country life and self-sufficiency: "What interested me at this time was the back-to-the-land movement communes, gardening, architecture, the difficulty of maintaining a long, dirt-road driveway. Not only could I solve some of these problems in real life and observe what people were doing to make things work in rural situations, I could write about them and make some money," she said.
Book Cover: Great Grapes Book Cover: Making the Best Apple Cider Book Cover: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider

Several of these are available on Two "Storey's Country Wisdom Bullitens, A.53 Great Grapes" and A.47 Making the Best Apple Cider, and a co-authored book, Cider : Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, Third Edition". I look forward to reading these, along with her dairy foods cookbook and the treatise on maintaining country lanes and building serviceable gates. I expect she wrote well about these topics because she seems to have so much interest in, and respect for, writing of this sort. Here's a quote from her Missouri Review Interview.

Interviewer: Do you have a standard operating procedure in the way you work? Do you start with place, or history, or character and story, or is it different with each book?

Proulx: Where a story begins in the mind I am not sure: a memory of haystacks, maybe, or wheel ruts in the ruined stone, the ironies that fall out of the friction between past and present, some casual phrase overheard. But something kicks in, some powerful juxtaposition, and the whole book shapes itself up in the mind. I spend a year or two on the research and I begin with the place and what happened there before I fill notebooks with drawings and descriptions of rocks, water, people, names. I study photographs. From place come the characters, the way things happen, the story itself. For the sake of architecture, of balance, I write the ending first and then go to the beginning.

Interviewer: What's your approach to research?

Proulx: The research is ongoing and my great pleasure. Since geography and climate are intensely interesting to me, much time goes into the close examination of specific regions\u2014natural features of the landscape, human marks on it, earlier and prevailing economics based on raw materials, ethnic background of settlers.

Interviewer: Where do you go for that kind of information?

Proulx: I read manuals of work and repair, books of manners, dictionaries of slang, city directories, lists of occupational titles, geology, regional weather, botanists' plant guides, local histories, newspapers. I visit graveyards, collapsing cotton gins, photograph barns and houses, roadways. I listen to ordinary people speaking with one another in bars and stores, in laundromats. I read bulletin boards, scraps of paper I pick up from the ground. I paint landscapes because staring very hard at a place for twenty to thirty minutes and putting it on paper burns detail into the mind as no amount of scribbling can do.

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