Wednesday, July 21, 2010

POSSUM LIVING, by Dolly Freed


Sometimes how-to books are worth reading not because they're particularly informative, but because they're encouraging. I often use literature as a sort of prescribed propaganda, reading certain books and articles not to learn, but to feel less alone in my interests, and less marginalized in my desires.

This book is a great example of all that. Really, Dolly Freed doesn't give much information that you couldn't come up with yourself, and what she does teach are the sorts of things you really need practice doing to actually learn. But the book is great because it serves as a voice telling you that yes, you actually can do this.

The 'this' that you can do is pointed out pretty plainly by the book's subtitle: 'how to live well without a job and with (almost) no money'. Basically, Dolly's advice can be boiled down to Do It Yourself instead of paying someone else to do it for you, and only pay someone if it's dirt cheap. First and foremost, Doing it Yourself means producing the food you eat, which Dolly does by gardening and by raising rabbits for slaughter. Her diet is also supplemented by wild caught game, mostly fish and turtles and pigeons, and also by occasionally scavenged food (wild mushrooms and plants, roadkill, produce discarded by the grocery store, etc).

Food-related information makes up the bulk of the book, and it makes sense that it would, since food is one of the basic necessities of life. Another basic necessity is shelter, and Dolly delves into that primarily by exploring ways to buy property cheap, which pretty much boils down to purchasing a foreclosed property. I'm not sure how informative her information is in this department, though, because POSSUM LIVING was written in 1978, and it's likely that foreclosure procedures have changed.

Incidentally, a lot of what makes this book interesting relates to what you can read between the lines. It reveals little hints and clues about the cultural climate of 1978, and it gives a sense of what daily life is like for Dolly, who quit school in seventh grade and grew up in the care of her eccentric father. These elements become even more profound with the inclusion of an afterword by the author, written for this re-release of POSSUM LIVING, thirty years after the book first hit the shelves. A lot of people who read the first book grew very curious about Dolly's later life. Now their curiosity can be satisfied (though frankly I found Dolly's current place in life to be a bit of a letdown, considering where she was while writing the first edition).

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