Last weekend I moved just outside city limits, to 2.3 acres of Indiana farmland. On summer break from our teaching jobs at the university, my husband and I have been busy attending to our new brood of chickens, constructing large compost bins, and harvesting mulberries. Perhaps this helps explain why I’ve been drawn to memoirs of city-girls-gone-country—books like The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Katie Kimball. But as it turns out, the rest of the country shares my fascination with farmers.
In the hyperbolicly titled “Chick Lit Is Dead, Long Live Farm Lit!” at The Atlantic, Emily Matchar argues that chick lit—that genre of popular fiction which addresses modern womanhood—has evolved. Where our heroines used to flit from Manhattan martini bar to sample sale, they now bike from small-town cafe to heirloom tomato bed. Hot pink covers with stilettos have been replaced with earth tones and muck boots, and stockbrokers have been traded for men in Wranglers.
Matchar attributes the change in literature to our changing economy—after all, fewer people can afford martini bars and retail therapy these days—and to the increasing popularity of the New Domesticity movement. But I wonder if there isn’t something more behind this shift.
Thanks to technological advances, many of our daily activities have grown increasingly impersonal and decontextualized. We get money from a machine, not a teller. We pay for groceries at the automatic checkout with a swipe—no need to smile. We print postage labels at home rather than visiting the post office. We eat food we didn’t raise, grow, or even cook, and our first-graders can’t identify vegetables. We buy clothes made by people we’ll never meet in factories we’d be afraid to visit. We spend our days in temperature-controlled cubicles talking to people by typing at them on screens, and we spend our nights under the flickering spell of yet another screen. Almost all of our daily interactions are mediated by technology.
Could it be that we’re hungry for some more personal kind of face-to-face interaction? Perhaps the growing love for farm lit signals a deep human need that isn’t being met as much these days. The need to be surprised by small, firm red potatoes under the warm, black dirt. The need to talk with the librarian rather than self-scanning your books, to value a relationship over expediency. Aren’t these part of what makes us human?
I might be wrong. But while I think about it, I’ll be out checking on my chickens.