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Noodling for Flatheads: Moonshine, Monster Catfish, and Other Southern Comforts

Burkhard Bilger

229 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0684850117 / ISBN 13: 9780684850115
Published by Scribner, 2000
Used Condition: Good
From Better World Books (Mishawaka, IN, U.S.A.)

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Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP14208261

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Noodling for Flatheads: Moonshine, Monster ...

Publisher: Scribner

Publication Date: 2000

Book Condition:Good

Edition: Reprint.

About this title


Burkhard Bilger vividly captures a world that lies outside the familiar images of life in the United States in the twenty-first century in eight superbly crafted essays about little-known corners of the South. It is a world in which grown men catch catfish with their bare hands, crowds of people cheer on chickens as they fight to the death, and a woman moves into a trailer home when her house burns down just so she can continue hunting 350 nights a year. Bilger records the eccentric and sometimes downright bizarre behavior he encounters with humor and wit but nary a whisper of mockery. In essays that combine history, anecdotes, and personal observations, he describes each activity, its origins, its dangers, and its pleasures. But Noodling for Flatheads is much more than a survey of unlikely pastimes. Through lively portraits of the participants, Bilger illuminates the obsessive individualism that is at the heart of the American spirit.


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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