As my book, “Batting Rocks Over the Barn — An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey,” progresses through its launch and marketing, I am learning a great deal about what is needed and what is expected to ensure it reaches as wide an audience as possible.

It was published May 30 and was quickly available on line through Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com for purchase as hard-cover and soft-cover, as well as e-books via Kindle and Nook. The book was published through Xlibris, a division of Penguin Books and Random House.  It is essentially my third book project.  In 2000, I was the primary writer of a 273-book “Hand-in-Hand – 50 Years Together,” the history of University Presbyterian Church in Tempe.  In 2012, I  produced a 181,000-word, 306-page book, “The Club of Clubs – The 60-Year History of the Kiwanis Club of  Tempe.”  Over the years, I have produced a number of booklets for various projects, including a 70-page book for our 40th high school class reunion and a 60-page booklet for our 50th reunion in 2014.

“Batting Rocks Over the Barn” consists of 72 essays I largely composed during the 1970s as newspaper farm columns under the weekly column title, “Rural at Random.”  Those I chose and reworked were largely glimpses into what farm life was like for a kid growing up in Grundy County, Iowa, in the 1950s and 1960s.  (www.battingrocksoverthebarn.com)

So far, there have been three book reviewing services that rendered comments.  All of them were heartening and accurately captured what I was trying to accomplished.  One suggested I did not spend much time on people and their character.  Here are the three reviews:

FORWARD CLARION REVIEW

AUTOBIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR

Batting Rocks over the Barn: An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey

Lawn Griffiths

Xlibris

978-1-5035-7283-6

Five Stars (out of Five)

Time is well spent within the pages of Griffiths’s home run memoir, launching back to a place where imagination was ever-present.

If Lawn Griffiths’s memoir, Batting Rocks Over the Barn: An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey , was a dish, it would be comfort food: a baked potato with melted butter, meatloaf, chicken soup, or any other kind of nourishment that feeds a larger hunger. In these high-tech, fast-paced times, Griffiths’s recollections unfold like a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer.

As the title suggests, Griffiths grew up on his family’s farm in Iowa, a fertile setting ideal for cultivating coming-of-age wisdom. The fact that Griffiths makes use of the word “odyssey” in his title is neither accident, nor mistake. His well-crafted narrative takes root in early childhood and stretches past his homecoming during his freshman year of college at Iowa State University.

What lies between are well-rendered recollections presented in a thematic structure that is narrated by a man who has had time to reflect on their value and their influence over his life.

And what of the title? In an illustrative short segment, Griffiths declares, “No one has batted more stones over the top of the barn than I have.” It’s a lovely assertion, but it is also one that begs an unfortunate question, whose answer is less than satisfying. Sadly, most of us have likely never seen such an activity, nor can remember the last time we saw kids playing a pickup game of stickball, kick the can, or any other game that does not require a screen.

Unlike a few phrases in this review, the author manages to dodge any clichés in his narrative, including one potential trap at the memoir’s conclusion. Were it not for Griffiths’s skills as a writer, he might have blundered when it came to tackling the issue of coming home and what that means after one has been away for a while. When it seems that Griffiths, remembering his first visit home from college, might remind us that, in fact, “you can never go home,” instead he nails a keen observation: “Despite the estrangement I felt so long ago coming back from college for high school homecoming, I came to realize the changes were taking place in me, and I had moved on.”

Time is well spent within the pages of Griffiths’s home run memoir, launching back to a place where imagination was ever-present.

Amanda Silva

 KIRKUS REVIEW

A debut collection of vignettes about the author’s childhood on an Iowa farm.

Between 1900 and 1990, the number of Americans who lived on family farms declined from 42 percent of the population to less than 2 percent. Newspaper reporter Griffiths grew up on such a farm near Parkersburg, Iowa, in the 1950s and ’60s, and this is an affectionate, if impersonal, elegy for a vanishing way of life. “Rural America,” he notes, “has been as transformed by science and technology as other sectors of our nation.” Griffiths lovingly details almost every aspect of the dairy farming, corn growing, and hog raising to which he was exposed, starting at age 4 when he rode a cultivator plowing through a cornfield. “My father believed all children had work potential, no matter how young they were,” he recalls. “Play was okay for town kids, he’d say, but country youth had to learn responsibility.” Griffiths’ responsibilities included everything from filling silos with corn to spraying cows and protecting them from flies to transplanting “protesting pullets” from brooder houses to wire cages: “Like chicken thieves, we stole [in] just after darkness and began the resettlement project.” The author’s collage of country life includes recollections of the schoolhouse he attended in second grade“Older boys used to capture mice in traps and dangle the partly paralyzed rodents in the faces of girls”—and the local drugstore, where “the stools and booths around the soda fountain were filled with teenagers sipping green rivers and cherry cokes.” Still, this is a somewhat one-dimensional piece of Americana because he reveals so little about the people in his rural world. There is an amusing anecdote about his mother being cornered in an outhouse by an “ill-tempered ram,” but as for her personality, he simply says that she was “practical, unassuming, modest and enduring.” Only the local blacksmith—a “peppery, strong-willed, broad-shouldered and tireless” man who “developed welding into an art”—gets a fleshed-out portrait. Griffiths’ vignettes may have worked for his newspaper columns on farming but, without the human touch, are less effective as a book.

An affectionate but facile look at family farm life.

 BLUEINK REVIEW

Batting Rocks Over the Barn: An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey 

Lawn Griffiths

Xlibris, 136 pages, (paperback) $19.99, 9781503572836 

(Reviewed: July, 2015) 

 An inviting nostalgia permeates this collection of newspapers columns based upon the author’s experiences growing up on an Iowa farm more than 50 years ago. The title alone will resonate with anyone who ever grabbed a flat stick and a handful of rocks and sent those rocks humming over a rooftop for imaginary game-winning home runs.

For eight years in the 1970s, Lawn Griffiths, then farm editor at the Waterloo Daily Courier in Northeast Iowa, penned 400 “Rural at Random” columns. Here, he assembles more than 70 of them to present an affecting, almost historical, portrait of farming.

With 20 milking cows, hogs, and 1,500 hens to help look after, Griffiths, his twin brother and a sister were kept busy with a demanding schedule of daily chores before and after school. But as Griffiths tells these lyrical essays, he still manages to evoke a sense of long, languid Midwest days when life was much slower-paced than today.

Writing with an assured touch and a journalist’s keen eye for detail, he captures the natural rhythm of farming life with his essays based upon the four seasons. He describes, for example, how winter takes over “like a lazy polar bear about to relax on a floating mass of ice, burying us in smothering whiteness” and later only releases its grip reluctantly and deceptively. “Spring will come a half-dozen times now before spring comes.”

Other entries focus on wonderfully obscure topics that many readers have never considered: gates and fences, tractor seats, the mysterious contents of toolboxes, precious farm flashlights, and more. He also writes wistfully about the tiny country school — “Education at the edge of a cornfield” — the death of the local blacksmith and dozens of other intriguing subjects.

This book will charm readers of a certain age—perhaps those upwards of 50—especially if they shared a similar rural childhood; many others will equally enjoy these well-crafted recollections from a bygone era.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

 

 

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