An affectionate but facile look at family farm life.

Batting Rocks Over the Barn


A debut collection of vignettes about the author’s childhood on an Iowa farm.

Between 1900 and 1990, the number of Americans who lived on family farms declined from 42 percent of the population to less than 2 percent. Newspaper reporter Griffiths grew up on such a farm near Parkersburg, Iowa, in the 1950s and ’60s, and this is an affectionate, if impersonal, elegy for a vanishing way of life. “Rural America,” he notes, “has been as transformed by science and technology as other sectors of our nation.” Griffiths lovingly details almost every aspect of the dairy farming, corn growing, and hog raising to which he was exposed, starting at age 4 when he rode a cultivator plowing through a cornfield. “My father believed all children had work potential, no matter how young they were,” he recalls. “Play was okay for town kids, he’d say, but country youth had to learn responsibility.” Griffiths’ responsibilities included everything from filling silos with corn to spraying cows and protecting them from flies to transplanting “protesting pullets” from brooder houses to wire cages: “Like chicken thieves, we stole [in] just after darkness and began the resettlement project.” The author’s collage of country life includes recollections of the schoolhouse he attended in second grade“Older boys used to capture mice in traps and dangle the partly paralyzed rodents in the faces of girls”—and the local drugstore, where “the stools and booths around the soda fountain were filled with teenagers sipping green rivers and cherry cokes.” Still, this is a somewhat one-dimensional piece of Americana because he reveals so little about the people in his rural world. There is an amusing anecdote about his mother being cornered in an outhouse by an “ill-tempered ram,” but as for her personality, he simply says that she was “practical, unassuming, modest and enduring.” Only the local blacksmith—a “peppery, strong-willed, broad-shouldered and tireless” man who “developed welding into an art”—gets a fleshed-out portrait. Griffiths’ vignettes may have worked for his newspaper columns on farming but, without the human touch, are less effective as a book.

An affectionate but facile look at family farm life.

Pub Date: May 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5035-7284-3

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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