Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review: It Takes a Village Idiot

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: It Takes a Village Idiot (Complicating the Simple Life)

Author: Jim Mullen

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Date: 2001

Length: 219 pages

Illustrations: line drawings by Benoit

ISBN: 0743218795

Quote: "But there is one travel destination that you will never, never, never, ever, ever, ever read about in the Travel section in the New York Times...That place is upstate New York."

So Jim Mullen, the snarky Entertainment Weekly wit who likes things un-touristy, moved to upstate New York and discovered the joys of telecommuting.

Now, should you move to upstate New York, or any other part of the Appalachian Mountain Region, and try to be a telecommuting writer? Should you really? Jim Mullen wants to help you think it through. That is why he is so snarky about his move. I support him in his goal. That is why I highly recommend this book.

"[T]here is no Catskill County in New York State, nor a town called Walleye," Mullen admits, and "Any similarity between real persons and the characters in this book (not related to me by marriage) is wishful thinking." So it's a composite character to whom he first offers an invitation, then realizes that "a weekend in Walleye for Rob would be as horrible as a weekend in the Hamptons used to be for me. I changed my tack. 'What is there to do? Plenty. If you're lucky I might be able to get Al to let you drive his manure spreader. Then we could go into town and watch them put the mail in the boxes.'"

The composite character Rob is dying from AIDS; if he were a hearty outdoor type he might enjoy remodelling the old farmhouse, raising vegetables, going to auctions, trying to make dandelion wine ("All the bottles either had exploded or had blown their corks...In several places it had eaten holes in the concrete floor"), stacking wood, and the other things Mullen actually does. But let's face it: some people are not hearty outdoor types. They need to be in cities and should, by and large, stay there.

How Mullen discovers that he's not the type who needs to be in a city is hilarious. I think a lot of us who've chosen a rural life have been put off by the heavy dose of sarcasm at the beginning, and/or the not too subtle marketing of the Internet, and/or the decision to play up Rob's affiliation with the homosexual lobby--nobody wants to know. Once we get past these things, It Takes a Village Idiot really is a fun read. Though a bit familiar, in my part of the world.

Are the dozen or so people who trudge into the computer center to earn or improve our living expenses, at least once a week, really "village idiots, complicating the simple life"? Maybe...but this lifestyle is a lot simpler than catching the overnight bus into Washington (which doesn't even make an overnight run any more) used to be. And I still get to live in an orchard surrounded by forests and streams. And I still get to communicate with the kind of people with whom I liked to mingle when it was necessary physically to be in Washington. I don't want the Internet in my home, but I love having it in town. My only complaint is that people like us really need floppy disk drives, and the Gates Foundation needs to stop discriminating against us and bring those back.

I bought the first hardcover edition, but I'm glad I bought it secondhand at a charity sale; it's poorly bound and has cracked loudly every time it's been opened. Nevertheless, if you buy a copy from me (click here) for $5 plus $5 shipping, not only do you get the chance to post something here containing a live link to a book or other commercial site of your choice, but also Jim Mullen (or his favorite charity) gets $1 out of that total of $10.