[Marxism] Of Time and Place: A Family Farm in Wisconsin
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Thu Feb 20 16:48:02 MST 2020
Richard Quinney | Of Time and Place: A Family Farm in Wisconsin |
Borderland Books | 2019 | 105 Pages
Review by Paul Buhle
Richard Quinney’s Of Time and Place: A Family Farm in Wisconsin is very
much a midwestern memory book. Quinney, a retired sociologist, returned
to his native state, reconnected with his home farm, and devoted careful
attention to its physical details. The resulting book is lovely in
itself, populated with spare text, sepia shots from his family’s albums,
and some of his own photos.
But Of Time and Place may be best understood within the wider context of
Quinney’s imprint, Borderland Books, created in 2005. Aside from a dozen
of his own photo books, Borderland’s catalog includes literary classics
by wrongly forgotten Wisconsin authors like August Derleth and Glenway
Westcott, and a grouping of other works based in Wisconsin or with
Wisconsin connections. I confess that this includes my own anthology,
Comics in Wisconsin.
Most unusual among today’s publishers of anything but stratospherically
priced volumes for collectors, Borderland’s productions have the feeling
of old fashion design, including a characteristic hand-sewn binding
common generations ago. They are lovely to the touch, designed as if the
publisher is delivering a personal message to every reader. Quinney’s
message: that regional memories and regional books matter.
In fact, the “local book”—most often detective books, children’s books,
and cookbooks—have become commonplace in university press catalogs
across the past two decades, and for good reasons. They attract readers
who show up at public book events, and also journalist-reviewers and
radio hosts interested (or, at least, they seem to be interested) in the
texts and the authors’ own connections. This admirable audience effort
is not so strongly shown for the scholarly offerings of university
presses, including those on state history, political murals of the
1970s-80s, along with other works heavily graphic in nature and often
Borderland Books has seized a creative niche. Publishing mostly
nonfiction, Borderland seeks to compel readers toward a deeper take, a
pause and a rumination on the secrets that a specific history may hold
for anyone sufficiently interested to dig in. Of Time and Place is a
particular entry here. Quinney’s rural origins near Delevan, on a family
farm several generations old, offer a close look at the human landscape
as a kind of natural landscape itself.
He carries to his work, as he tells us in the prologue, the sense that
he was at the end of the line. The photos that he took (on display
heavily in his other books) capture what might be his final look at the
farmhouse, the barn, the machine shed, and the chicken house. He begins
this text properly with a photo of his grandfather’s shadow as he slowly
makes his way across the fields a few years before Pearl Harbor, a photo
taken not long before his grandfather would die. The “Old House” on the
property yielded to a “new house,” the one where the author grew up with
his brothers, father, and mother, and where he stayed until leaving for
nearby Carroll College.
Quinney’s family was not far, in fact, from Lake Geneva, with its
tourist excitements, its grand Chicago families and their mansions. His
parents owned automobiles, and his father traveled all the way to
California before settling down to the family place. The family
photographs and the scrapbook clips carry the reader forward toward the
present, including the one-room school where Quinney took his lessons.
Of Time and Place is a fine reminder of how non-insular rural life, at
least rural life in easy traveling distance to the outside worlds, can
be. The “new house” had the look of a bungalow, an idea set into his
father's mind almost certainly by the homes he had seen in California.
Quinney turns, as he has done in his other works, to his childhood sense
of cowboy dramas, a constant presence on the radio and the low-cost “B”
Hollywood films of the 1930s-40s. Country music on the radio, especially
the “Saturday Night Barn Dance” on station WLS in Chicago, reinforced
the strange romances of rural life, cowboy or otherwise.
Late in the book, Quinney describes the labor involved with planting and
cultivation in his grandfather’s era—just before the heavy use of
pesticides changed this work’s nature—and the cooperative use of
threshing machines cooperatively by farm neighbors. After the threshing
season came the Walworth County Fair, with 4-H competitions, pig sales
and real rewards: enough money to go to college, that is, to get off the
The last pages reprise the photographs he has taken for other works,
what we might call a last look around the farm. Some acres were
transferred to sustainable agriculture, now making enough money to pay
the taxes and for necessary repairs. After Quinney’s brother died, the
farm passed to other hands, but the surrounding wetlands will, with
luck, be preserved in public trust.
Of Time and Place is truly a midwestern family farm story, shared so
tenderly with readers through photography and prose, that leaves readers
wondering at the fate of the land and its inhabitants.
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