Cold Comfort Farm

“Well,’ said Mrs Smiling, ‘it sounds an appalling place, but in a different way from all the others. I mean, it does sound interesting and appalling, while the others just sound appalling.”

-Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

I once went through this weird phase where I wanted to be a gentleman farmer. I spent countless hours researching heirloom crops to grow and obscure breeds of animals to raise. I romanticized the agrarian lifestyle; always picturing myself leaning on a fence looking out at a pasture of sheep or goats. I thought there was no better life of freedom or satisfaction – at the end of the day I could kiss Christina, eat apple pie, and read the Bible to my 10 children. In an attempt to test the waters of farming, I convinced my parents to put a garden in the backyard. To make the long story short, I dreaded watering and weeding the stupid thing and when something did finally grow, a wild beast ate it before I could gain any tangible satisfaction.

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After that failed attempt at farming, I put my rural dreams to the side and took up a much more suitable occupation – reading books and writing obscure blog posts. Every now and again the dream resurfaces of eating pie while staring at my goats but Christina usually squashes them with an impersonation of myself during the aforementioned gardening days…”(in an old man voice) Oh, my backkkkk, I fricking hate bending over, I need a chair to sit down to get these things out.” This precarious relationship with agriculture framed my mindset while reading the 1932 classic Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – a parody of the rural novels from 19th century England. Suffice it to say it motivated new Google searches for “how to garden in a wheelchair.”

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The title of Cold Comfort Farm is named after the main farm in the book and paints the picture of natural beauty while simultaneously highlighting the backwardness of rural England. The main character, Flora, comes to the farm to essentially mooch off her relatives with free room and board. Her relatives, the Strakadders, are best described as Sussex hillbillies who are superstitious, uneducated, and set in their ways – even though their ways make zero sense. Flora spends the book, in a quite hilarious manner, fixing the Strakadders problems, and facilitating them to lead better lives. At first, it is slow going, but with finesse and humor, Flora helps each member to truly blossom to their full potential.

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This novel is meant to show that no person is irredeemable and that the countryside not only has beautiful landscape but also beautiful people. England at the time was still quite pretentious when it came to class differences and Cold Comfort Farm is a direct attack on the negative attributes of the “stiff upper lip.”  It is not that Flora tries to change the Strakadders into pompous-city folk but rather helps them see their skills in a new light – leading them in the first steps towards their lifelong dreams. Many times we judge others who live differently and we try to change them to be reflections of ourselves; like a farmer trying to coerce me to weed when I am just more suited for Wikipedia.  In a world rife with division – Republican/Democrat, Rural/City, North/South, Black/White – we need to be reminded of this more than ever.

 

Made in Brazil-Paulo Coelho

Just this last Christmas my Mom bought me a very interesting book-Paulo Coelho: A Warrior’s Life. My lovely mother had the best intentions with this book but I don’t think she knew exactly what the book was about. I say this because my Mom and I had never heard of Paulo Coelho and she didn’t realize the book was a biography of his life. So, the book has been collecting dust on my shelf for the past 5 months and I have honestly had no desire to crack it open. Knowing that I would eventually have to read the book, to ensure future Christmas presents from my Mom, I decided to read some of Paulo Coelho’s fiction. I went to the library and checked out The Alchemist, Veronica Decides to Die, and 11 Minutes. As most of you know, I am not the biggest fan of fiction and it is rare that I get into books that do not teach me about philosophy, psychology, or history. Well…I devoured these three books like a fat boy devours cake on his birthday. Paulo Coelho is a amazing writer and his books dig deep into the human psyche. His writing is very philosophical and intricate while simultaneously entertaining. It is no wonder that he has sold over 200,000,000 copies and has published over 15 award winning books. I currently have 9 more of his books checked out from the library and have finished reading the 500 page biography my Mom bought me for Christmas. Thanks Mom for introducing me to this awesome author!

Paulo Coelho de Souza was born August 24th, 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was a very eccentric, odd-looking young man who grew up during the tumultuous times of dictator rule. Coelho came from a wealthy family but he was a problem child who disobeyed his parents and lived life on his own terms. His parents would eventually have him forcefully committed to a psychiatric ward on three separate occasions where he was given electroshock treatment and a myriad of psychotropic medications. Coelho did have many quirks about him but he was not mentally insane-just a rebellious kid raised in the hippy-era of the 60’s. Eventually, he moved out of his parents house and began a bohemian lifestyle that included copious amounts of drugs, sex, and counter-culture activities. He would become a amateur Satan worshiper in his 20’s and publish many articles for magazines with hidden messages about alternative societies, UFOs, and psychedelic beliefs. Brazil at the time was very strict about media censorship and on two separate occasions Coelho was apprehended by the police for his publications. On one occasion he was thrown into a car with a black bag over his head and subsequently threatened with torture during a week long interrogation. Following this scare, and a supernatural encounter with the Devil, Coelho denounced Satan worshiping and went back to his Catholic roots.

Coelho started his artistic career as an actor and producer in small production plays. He would eventually move on from the theater and make a large amount of money writing lyrics for popular Brazilian songs. From the time he was a young boy, he wanted to become a famous writer and throughout his young career he never lost the desire to write. It wasn’t until he was 35 that he published his first book and it wasn’t until he was over 40 that he became famous with The Alchemist which sold over 80 million copies and has been translated into 67 different languages-the world record for most translations of a book by a living author. At current, Coelho has published 30 books which are published in 170 countries throughout the world. I admire his tenacity and ability to maintain his passion for writing; it is no easy feat to continue a dream as you get older. The sad fact is that I never had heard of him nor any of my friends. I highly recommend his books because you will gain a deeper appreciation of life, relationships, imagination, and your own passion. Start with The Alchemist-you won’t be disappointed.