Title: Noodling for Flatheads Moonshine, Monster ...
Publisher: Scribner, New York
Publication Date: 2000
Book Condition: Fine
Dust Jacket Condition: Fine
Signed: Signed by Author(s)
Edition: Book Club (BCE/BOMC)
Rare signed first edition. Book is fine, no marks other than author signature. Dustjacket fine also. Bookseller Inventory # 000198
Synopsis: The Old South is slow to give up its secrets. Though satellite dishes outnumber banjo players a thousand to one, most traditions haven't died; they've just gone into hiding. Cockfighting is illegal in forty-eight states, yet there are three national cockfighting magazines and cockpits in even the most tranquil communities. Homemade liquor has been outlawed for more than a century, yet moonshiners in Virginia still ship nearly one million gallons a year. Some of these pastimes are ancient, others ultramodern; some are illegal, others merely obscure. But the people who practice them share an undeniable kinship. Instead of wealth, promotion, or a few seconds of prime time, they follow dreams that lead them ever deeper underground. They are reminders, ultimately, that American culture isn't as predictable as it seems-that the weeds growing between its cracks are its most vital signs of life.
In these masterfully crafted essays, Burkhard Bilger explores the history and practice of eight such clandestine worlds. Like John McPhee and Ian Frazier, he introduces us to people whose spirit of individualism keeps traditions alive, from a fifty-something female coon hunter who spends 340 nights a year in the woods to a visionary frog farmer and a man whose arms are scarred by the eighty-pound catfish he catches by hand. A fluid combination of adventure, history, and humor, "Noodling for Flatheads" is evocative, intelligent, and wonder-fully weird-a splendid antidote to the sameness of today's popular culture.
Review: There are some preconceptions about southern traditions that need to be clarified. Moonshining is no longer the pastime of grizzled Deliverance yahoos, but a multimillion-dollar business laced with SWAT-style raids; squirrel brains probably aren't responsible for neurological disorders; and in Louisiana, a good cockfight is fun for the whole family. These are some of the enlightened reports delivered by Burkhard Bilger as he explores the stereotypical, eclectic habits of southerners from West Virginia to Oklahoma. Despite Bilger's journalistic pedigree (he is an editor with The Sciences and Discover, and has credits in The Atlantic and Harper's, where his cockfighting piece, "Enter the Chicken" previously appeared), he slips into nostalgia just enough to romanticize a squirrel hunt, or raise a game of backwoods marbles into an Olympic march of glory.
Bilger kicks off the tour from his hometown in Oklahoma, where he "noodles"--thrashes a limb around in catfish-thick waters--hoping to land a fabled 80-pound monster with his bare hands. In Louisiana he challenges the misgivings any nonenthusiast might have about cockfighting. Even though it's illegal in most of the country, the bloodsport is thriving in the Bayou State, replete with trade magazines, well-produced venues, and American Kennel Club-worthy breeding strategies. The same passion for efficiency goes into the moonshining business, where Bilger is taken under the wing of one of the few shiners willing to lead him through his sourmash operation. A few nights later, however, Bilger is on the other side, on a raid with the local sheriff. Squirrel-brain consumption is still popular in hamlets throughout Kentucky, even after a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine blamed a neurological disease on the dish. Frog legs, one Georgia entrepreneur claims, will soon replace chicken, and southern cooking--the kind that features chitlins, pigs feet, and collards--has become haute cuisine in Atlanta. Back in Oklahoma, Bilger connects with a coonhound trainer during a long night's raccoon chase, and he follows the success of a backwoods marble team who shaped their shooters in the granite-strewn streams of Tennessee. Bilger treats each eccentric character with a distant respect and hints at the melancholy of losing tradition, no matter how bizarre. --Lolly Merrell
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