Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker

Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker is a new novel by Roy Underhill (yes, THAT Roy Underhill) and published by Lost Arts Press. I was really looking forward to this novel…I’ve loved everything I’ve purchased from Christopher Schwarz and LAP and expected this to be of the same caliber.

The book itself is made in the USA and is just as exquisitely made as everything LAP does, so no disappointment there. The story itself is good, but not great, and focuses on Calvin Cobb, a section chief in the Department of Agriculture in the late 1930s. Calvin’s day job is testing manure spreaders and yes, there are plenty of jokes about it hitting the fan. Roy manages to bring a little woodworking into Calvin’s life by making manure spreader models. This turns into an improbable radio show. Again, Roy manages to sprinkle enough woodworking tool and joinery details that you never quite forget the author. In fact, the book itself is a lot like a film noir version of Roy’s TV show. My objection to the book is this…the situations that lead the story to its climax were, well…uncomfortable. I won’t give away the details out of fear of spoiling the ending for other potential readers and I don’t necessarily object to the real tension Roy was trying to create, but it doesn’t seem to gel well with the rest of the story. In addition to that, the book ends VERY quickly after the climax with a lot of loose ends unresolved.

Again, I didn’t expect Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker to be Shakespeare in a shop apron and it isn’t. It is a fun book that I would recommend to fans of Roy Underhill or LAP. Read it with a single malt or good craft beer next to the fire and you won’t be disappointed.

Lost Arts Press has posted a clip of Roy reading his favorite chapter from the book which can be found here.


Editor’s Note: I do not have an affiliate relationship of any kind with Lost Arts Press, Chris Schwarz, or Roy Underhill. However, I respect the hell out of what Chris and Roy have each been able to achieve and with any luck, I’ll be able to buy each of them a beer a Handworks 2015.

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A Handmade Life

A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by Wm. S. Coperthwaite is a book I will reread many times. In it, Mr. Coperthwaite describes the life I would like to live. One that has space for relationships and nature, for thought and rest; not simply a life of work.

“We started leaving the home to go to work in order to support the home. We have been doing this for so long that we have forgotten the purpose for which we sold ourselves in the first place.”

The book itself is organized by themes including Beauty, Work/Bread Labor, Simplicity, and Life Work. Each chapter features Mr. Coperthwaite’s musings on what qualities and characteristics of life support the theme and which tend to threaten it. Side bar articles are spread throughout the book that offer brief treatments of things like axes or crooked knives. At times there is poetry. Sprinkled among it all are Peter Forbes fine photographs and pithy quotes from Thoreau to Gandhi to Emily Dickinson.

“Many of the most important lessons in life can be learned by not taught. So, even though we cannot teach these experiences, we can work to create an atmosphere to encourage learning.”

Like most people who read A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity, the odds of me ditching my corporate job in favor of a subsistence farm that can only be reached by canoe are improbably small. For me, the value of a book like this is not to motivate me to ditch my life in favor of something totally different but to get me thinking about how my life can be enriched by being deliberate about my choices. It forces me to think about what I want my life to be rather than what it currently is. It gives me the freedom to imagine a life that is more my own.

Read it. Take action. Repeat as necessary.

Get your copy here: A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity


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The Reading Promise

In March 2010 I read a New York Times article about a father/daugther pair who began reading together daily in what they termed The Streak, ultimately concluding their Streak on the day the daughter went to college ending at day 3,218. I was so inspired by the article that I began a Streak with my own children which extends to more than 1,400 days and has become a precious part of my relationship with my kids.

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared is written by Alice Ozma, the daughter of the original Streak pair and describes not only how the Streak came about, but delves deeply into the personality and thoughts of Alice as she grows from a young adolescent to an independent woman. Additionally, the book unpacks the complicated relationship that exists between Alice and her father, Jim Brozina, exploring both Brozina’s divorce, his unusual relationship with his ex-wife, his challenges with dating, and his struggles with the evident marginalization of his job…as a public school librarian.

The books of the Streak provide the backdrop for the personal interactions that make up the Reading Promise and a list of the books is provided at the end of the book. That said, the Reading Promise is much, much more than that. It forced me to think about the interactions I have with my own daughters, how they are developing, and how I am part of that. The Reading Promise forced me to reflect on many things in my own life and for that, I am grateful.

You can get your copy of The Reading Promise here:The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared


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Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story

My family and I recently spent a few days at Big Bend National Park. While there, I picked up Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story in the book store at the Panther Junction visitor’s center. Truthfully, I didn’t know anything about the book but was just looking for something to read about the area.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book is an autobiography of J. O. Langford, a man who, along with his young family, settled in the Big Bend shortly after the turn of the 19th century. Langford purchased three sections of land that include the natural hot springs near the Boquillas Canyon area. Langford chose the springs specifically because his own health was poor and the springs were believed to have medicinal properties. Ultimately Langford developed the springs into an area where travelers would come from all over Texas to bathe in their waters. Over time, he managed to build bath houses, lodging, and a small post office, the ruins of which can be visited today. Like many people of the Big Bend area, Langford was resourceful in scratching out a living, in one example becoming the local school teacher simply to provide additional income for his family.

The bulk of the book is made up of anecdotes from the Langfords’ time in the area, full of examples of the family’s explorations and education in a rough land that over time they grew to love. One of my favorite quotes from the book also sums up my experiences in Big Bend: “There is a strange, mystic beauty about that mountain range, something compelling and mysterious that grips you the first time you see it and never afterward leaves you.”

The book neither gives you a great description of Big Bend today or one of modern homesteading. Instead, it is a fascinating view inside the mind of a man who went to great lengths to restore his health and provide for his family in the remotest of places.

You can get your own copy of the book here: Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story


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Welcome to The Dust Jacket. In this blog I’ll be sharing my reviews and recommendations about books I enjoy. I won’t bother to post things about books I didn’t like. There isn’t any point in it and I feel like its a waste of time for both you and me. My reading interests are wide ranging, so my reviews will be as well.

I hope that, in some way, The Dust Jacket can take on a similar feel to your local pub or cafe. I hope that we can engage in a bit of dialog about the books I write about and those you think I should read.

Again, welcome and please make yourself at home.


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