Review of Homesteading Books

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"Before You Build" and "In One Barn" are among the best homesteading books you can find.

Even though you’ll probably be reading this when spring is at its peak, I’m beginning it while snowbound at home in February. Since I can’t get to the office and my stack of new to-be-accessed items — and since snowy days tend to make one spend a lot of time looking at the bookshelf — I’m going to start off reviewing four old homesteading books from MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ editorial library that (against our librarian’s strictest orders) I’ve kept stashed away at home. Each book is dog-eared, bent-backed, and good.

Before You Build is a one-of-a-kind preconstruction guidebook that’ll tell you about all the things you’ll need to investigate before you start erecting that owner-built dream home. Written in thorough checklist form (with lots of advice-laden footnotes), the 148-page, large-format paperback covers all the decisions you’ll have to make about water and waste systems, driveway building, power and phone hookups, permits, codes, financing … and more. The author, Robert Roskind, heads the Owner Builder Center in Berkeley, California, so he has lots of experience with first-timers’ troubles. Before You Build will either help you avoid disastrous preconstruction “surprises” or talk you out of owner-building altogether! Either way, it’s worthwhile. Order for $8.95, plus $1.50 shipping and handling on orders totaling less than $25.00 ($3.00 for $25.00 or more), from MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Bookshelf.

These days, I’m (finally!) actually in ·the process of finishing my family’s new home. (I guess I can go ahead and return the Roskind book). The volume I’m now relying on to spackle over the wide gaps in my construction know-how is Bob Syvanen’s delightful Interior Finish: More Tricks of the Trade… from an Old-Style Carpenter. Over 500 illustrations and Bob’s straight-talk approach make this large-format, 126-page paperback a real boon to an amateur home builder who faces — with a combination of terror and

Determination — such tasks as paneling, door hanging, and putting up Sheetrock. You can get it for $7.95 from MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Bookshelf. Incidentally, .Syvanen’s Carpentry book has the same format, price, and quality as Interior Finish.

Every time my five-year-old son brings home another small zoological discovery, I hurriedly consult Pets in a Jar. This 96-page guide to collecting small wild critters tells you all you need to know in order to care for and learn from planarians, pond snails, tadpoles, newts, earthworms, ants, crickets, butterflies, hermit crabs, and more. It’s a terrific guide for budding hands-on naturalists. If your own library doesn’t let you keep books as long as I’ve gotten away with, you can order it for $3.95 plus 75¢ shipping and handling from Viking Penguin, Inc.

Now that my wife’s expecting our third child, I’m restudying our favorite birthing book, The Experience of Childbirth. We tried the well-known Lamaze birthing technique with our firstborn but felt that, while it did enable us to have a natural childbirth, its tightly structured breathing-concentration regimen partially distracted us from the event itself. Sheila Kitzinger’s little known book ($4.95 plus 75¢ shipping and handling from Viking Penguin, Inc) manages to instruct in the needed skills of breathing, relaxation, and relaxing the birth outlet, as well as in how to enjoy the labor and delivery. As she says, “It is the aim of this book to help parents make childbirth an experience faced with serenity and joy and to gain from it a sense of achievement and a deep, shared happiness.”

The Experience of Childbirth sure accomplished that aim when our second child was born!

Meanwhile, Back at the Store

I’ve finally made it back to the office, so here’s a rundown on three of the many new titles we’ve received. One of the best is Robert Roskind’s Building Your Own House, the First Part: from Foundations to Framing. The author of Before You Build (mentioned above) has followed that preliminary guide with a 440-page tome that, picking up where his first book left off, describes in painstaking detail all the construction steps from laying out the first batterboards to putting in the windows. (Roskind’s currently working on the next — and last — book of the series.) The author covers every step in sequence, offers helpful hints, and notes the most common mistakes. The techniques are clearly illustrated and photographed, and carefully explained for the first-time builder. Tools, worksheets, time estimates, and the wisdom gleaned from a career of working with novices — it’s all in Building Your Own House … available for $17.95, plus shipping, from MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Bookshelf.

Speaking of building, anyone getting into small-scale animal rearing should appreciate Lee Pelley’s In One Barn: Efficient Livestock Housing and Management ($13.45 postpaid from the Countryman Press). About half of this practical, 152-page book is devoted to specific, workable barn designs for people keeping more than one kind of animal, while the rest contains useful tips on animal behavior and health, feeding, and confinement problems … along with a host of other miscellaneous — and quite valuable —stock-keeping know-how. Having directed a homesteading school in New York State and raised cattle, goats, horses, rabbits, sheep, and pigs herself, Lee has good commonsense advice to offer on everything from stock tanks to floor drainage.

Last, I’m going to sneak in a plug for a new book by my favorite naturalist-journalist, Bil Gilbert. This 203-page collection of reprinted magazine essays is downright eclectic: It covers nightcrawlers, the Tasmanian devil, tracking, the slaughter of the Appalachians’ last herd of wild buffalo, caving, arctic camping, “the Marco Polo of moosedom” … and more. Gilbert has an uncanny knack for observation and a way of writing that slowly pulls you into his articles and traps you there. For over a decade, I’ve been reading everything of Bil’s I could ferret out. You now have an advantage — you can find a dozen of his best “under one roof.” In God’s Countries ($14.95 postpaid from the University of Nebraska Press).