Patagonia, a company more closely associated with teal pullovers than bound books, keeps bravely hiking into the treacherous world of publishing. Next month, the Ventura, Calif.-based clothier will release its 12th title, Dylan Tomine’s Closer to the Ground ($29.95). The memoir describes a family whose lifestyle encapsulates the Patagonia philosophy “to lead an examined life, to do what we can as individuals and as a company to make a difference to the environmental challenges we all face.” The e-book version ($9.95) on your iPhone fits nicely into a $199 Patagonia fanny pack.
Patagonia is not the first apparel maker to launch a book-publishing line (Ralph Lauren’s children’s book series, “The RL Gang,” doubles as a catalogue). But there is very little mention of gear in “Closer to the Ground.” Rather, it’s an eloquent chronicle of a likable family’s attempt to live a more nature-centric life. The Tomines heat their house with wood from fallen trees, get the bulk of their food by gardening, fishing and foraging, and adjust the rhythm of their lives to the seasons.
Tomine writes with respect and humor about his love of nature: “You’ve heard about men undressing women with their eyes? I undress trees. I can’t even look at someone’s ornamental bonsai without mentally cutting, splitting, and stacking it.” In addition to obsessing about wood, he loves to fish and cook; the book is full of lovingly described meals made from food gathered with his own hands: fried razor clams, cured salmon eggs, steamed Dungeness crab.
Tomine’s memoir isn’t exactly breaking new ground. Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” has inspired a genre of back-to-the land confessionals and urban-farming testimonials. But Tomine has a refreshingly unsanctimonious take. “This is not a story of radical escape from city life,” he writes. “My family and I are neither yurt-dwelling back-to-the-landers nor flag-waving bunker separatists. We aren’t off the grid, in the dark, or way out there.” In fact, Tomine and his wife and two young children live on Bainbridge Island, Wash., a Seattle suburb where you can forage for chanterelle mushrooms, as Tomine does, or buy them at an organic market. He even confesses to having “high-speed Internet, cable TV, DVD players, cellphones, laptops and all the rest of the usual suburban accoutrements.” The family, he admits, has been known to shop at Costco.
Such details may not endear Tomine to purists. But to dismiss the book for its unorthodoxy would be to miss out on a lovely homage to the oldest seductress around: Mother Nature.
New in paperback, from our previous reviews:
Part romantic comedy, part academic satire, The Marriage Plot (Picador, $16), by Jeffrey Eugenides, stars a bright English major whose bookish notions of love are challenged by her real-life relationships. Ron Charles called the book an “exceptionally witty and poignant” novel about “the persistence of “the marriage plot” in an unromantic world.
Sleeping With the Enemy (Vintage, $16.95), Hal Vaughan’s “compelling chronicle of Coco Chanel,” reveals the dark underside of the fashion icon, offering the tale of “a single-minded woman who faced history, made hard choices, connived, lied, collaborated and used every imaginable wile to survive,” even if it meant aligning herself with the Nazis, according to Marie Arana.
Robert K. Massie “brings great authority” to his biography of Catherine the Great (Random House, $20), “a sweeping account of Catherine and her times,” Kathy Lally wrote. “His story of this epic life is warm, sure and confiding, even when plowing through yet another war with the Turks.”
Written with “the relaxed elegance and unobtrusive charm of a Cary Grant,” The Stranger’s Child (Vintage, $15.95), by Alan Hollinghurst, “could hardly be better,” Michael Dirda wrote. The novel, which opens on the eve of World War I and spans a century, explores the after-effects of a weekend on the lives of its characters.
Krug writes a monthly column for Book World.