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,
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)
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.
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
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)
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.
"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."
In Good Hands
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.
"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