Books by Charles Fish

 

In the Land of the Wild Onion: Travels Along Vermont's Winooski River (University of Vermont/University Press of New England, 2006)

Blue Ribbons and Burlesque: A Book of Country Fairs (The Countryman Press/W.W. Norton, 1998)

In Good Hands: The Keeping of a Family Farm (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995; Kodansha paperback, 1996; now available as F S & G print-on-demand volume through local bookstores at Ingram Book Co., distributor)

 

In the Land of the Wild Onion

I grew up in Essex Junction, Vermont, in the 1940s and 50s along the lower reaches of the Winooski River. Modern pollution control measures had not yet rescued the river from the worst effects of wastewater dumping, but the river was, for a boy, a magical place. I played along the banks and spent many happy hours fishing. Some years ago I found myself drawn back to the valley of my childhood and thus began an extended exploration of the region. I hiked the headwaters of the river, canoed its navigable stretches, camped out, and saw with fresh eyes the river that had enchanted me as a boy. This new vision of the valley I owe largely to the generosity of the many people who spoke to me of their work or other interests, who referred me to a voluminous literature, and who let me accompany them in the field, the work place, the laboratory -- wherever their passionate pursuits took them. They included, among others, geologists, fish and wildlife biologists, hydro engineers and plant operators, woolen mill workers, trackers and habitat specialists, farmers, hunters, trappers, fishermen, Native Americans, and archaeologists. I have tried to tell their stories as well as my own. Indeed, their stories in some measure became my own as I wove their experiences together with mine in a narrative about this wonderful Vermont river.

Commentary

Charles Fish’s new book, In the Land of the Wild Onion: Travels Along Vermont’s Winooski River, tells the wonderful story of one of rural New England’s most interesting and least-known watersheds. Part travel book, part natural and human history, this splendidly-written biography of a river reminds me of Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. No one who loves what’s left of contemporary America’s unspoiled countryside will regret travelling down the ‘Onion River’ with this engaging and informative writer.
—Howard Frank Mosher, author of Waiting for Teddy Williams (jacket comment)

Charles Fish’s In the Land of the Wild Onion does for rivers what his earlier In Good Hands did for the family farm: blend personal experience, Yankee thoroughness and a magnificent talent for understanding human enterprise to produce a wholeness that feeds the mind and soothes the heart. Charles Fish is for Vermont what E. B. White was for Maine and Wendell Berry is for Kentucky—a superb regional writer with a universal message.
—Frank Bryan, The John G. McCullough Professor of Political Science, The University of Vermont (jacket comment)

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Blue Ribbons and Burlesque

I grew up a mile from the Champlain Valley Exposition, Vermont's largest fair, at a time when fairs loomed large in the imagination of a boy and in the yearly calendar of farmers and town folk alike. Local excellence was honored in the exhibits of 4-H projects, handcrafts, needlework, vegetables, baking, and canning. Horse and ox teams competed in the pulling ring, and pacers and trotters showed their stuff on the track. The boundaries of the acceptable were pushed back in the freak shows and girlie shows; striptease did not otherwise exist in rural and small town Vermont. Returning to Vermont some thirty-five years ago, I revisited the fairs, camera in hand. From these forays came the approximately 200 black and white photographs (accompanied by text) that appear in the book.

Commentary

"Pure and simple, Blue Ribbons and Burlesque is an absolute joy. Charles Fish reminds us there once was a time when a Ferris wheel at twilight could hold us in awe, and a 4-H tent offered a child all the wonder in the world."
-- Chris Bohjalian (jacket comment)

"Charles Fish's warm, elegiac book about Vermont country fairs -- a book, I confess, that caught me by surprise. I wasn't prepared for its insight, its attention to detail, its reverence for this ritual of late summer and early fall..."
-- Geoffrey Elan, Yankee

"This is nostalgia with an edge -- a substantial, serrated edge... Charles Fish deftly brings home the melancholy truth that all things change, except perhaps the texture of cotton candy and the sheen of a well-cared-for Jersey's soft, brown coat."
-- Rebecca Rule, Sunday Monitor, Concord, N.H.

"His photographs are admirable, his commentary enlightening, the whole a work of inimitable appeal."
-- Lee Pennock Huntington, Vermont Sunday Magazine

"Fish marries warm memories of country-fair sight, sound, and denizens to striking photographs of Vermont country fairs... A charming book with more than enough insights to be a public-library natural."
-- Booklist

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In Good Hands


Hard Cover

Paperback
Summers spent as a boy on a Rutland dairy farm led many years later to this inquiry into the character and fate of the family farm in New England. Portraits of my uncles, my grandmother, and the hired men blend with accounts of the work, the animals, economics, and the character of community. I pondered the ways in which the farm thought of itself as part of a mainstream American tradition of piety and hard work, how it had to accommodate itself to a changing social and moral world, and how, though still vital, it occupied an ever shrinking place in both American agriculture and the wider economic and political world. Appearing in the book is a diary I kept on the farm the summer I turned eight. It is a spare but revealing record of a boy's experiences where every day there was something new to learn or do. The book, then, is both an investigation of a passing way of life and a personal memoir of one aspect of a fortunate childhood.

Commentary

"Unflinching observation is the strength of Charles Fish's account of his family's history as farmers in Vermont ... His splendid book is informative, reflective, investigative and wise."
-- Maxine Kumin, The New York Times Book Review

"I love it. This is one of the two or three best books about farm life I have ever read. And I have read a fair number."
-- Noel Perrin (jacket comment)

"Charles Fish's memoir, In Good Hands, deepens our vision of a lost past with tremendous grace and generosity of detail."
-- Howard Norman (jacket comment)

"More than family history or mere coming-of-age memoir, Fish's first effort is a wise, clearheaded look back at a more selfless era that stressed community needs over individualism."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"[Fish] has composed a beautifully written and moving tribute to the Arcadian past, without succumbing to mere nostalgia or blind idealization.. "
-- Lee Pennock Huntington, Vermont Sunday Magazine

"It's clean, it's pared down, every word carries its freight, and is just so classically American."
-- Jean Feraca, The Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public Radio

"In this provocative book Charles Fish pushes beyond surface appearances to examine the ways in which we apprehend the world and construct meaning in our lives."
-- Gregory Sharrow, Vermont History

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