Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About Bryan L Jones

THE FARMING GAME
MARK TWAIN MADE ME DO IT



The Farming Game
Copyright © 1995
by Bryan L Jones
U of Nebraska P
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A former high school teacher turned Nebraska farmer himself, Jones has drawn on his . . . experience to write a lively, practical guide to success or, more often, failure in small farming. What distinguishes The Farming Game from a mere how-to book is the authorís sharp eye for the absurd detail in his portraits of people and his descriptions of the lending policies of banks, the government price controls and the production methods of agribusiness that make it difficult for the independent farmer to compete. — New York Times Book Review

Bryan Jones is that rare thing, a real farmer who also writes. The Farming Game is the one book Iíve seen . . . that I would give to someone who was thinking of moving to the country and actually supporting himself or herself off the land. . . . Anyone who picks it up [wonít be able to] stop laughing. First at the dozen portraits of different types of farmers. . . .Then at various barbed asides in the three long essays on how farmers can and do make money. . . . Jones has a wicked wit. [And his] book is remarkably educative. Mixed with the humor is a mass of information and analysis. . . . The reality of farming is here as other people very seldom see it. — Noel Perrin, Smithsonian


Mark Twain Made Me Do It
Copyright © 1997
by Bryan L Jones
U of Nebraska P
How to Buy

Mark Twain Made Me Do It and Other Plains Adventures is a collection of humorous essays portraying western Nebraska life and culture of the 1950s. Anecdotes on small-town baseball and the polio epidemic of 1952 provide a historic backdrop to the story of a wide-eyed boy exploring the limits of his universe. The adventures of a Twain-inspired raft trip down the South Platte and Sputnik-inspired homemade rockets mirror a society of seemingly settled lifestyles and frenzied technological advances. Family travels, holidays with Grandpa and Grandma, and marvelous creations like his sister's stories of Susabelle and the magic Band-Aids weave a splendid tale. But Jones's world is not one of sentimental nostalgia; running battles with town bullies, sobering encounters with religious buffoons, and an impressive collection of pedagogues specializing in violent corporal punishment capture the earthy essence of a world now largely disappeared. — from the jacket

I flat admire Mark Twain Made Me Do It — not only because it dramatizes a truckload of boyhood epiphanies, but also because it does the dramatizing with a flair and attitude worthy of Twain himself. — William Kloefkorn

Jones mixes humor characteristic of the plains society with a dash of wisdom, a pinch of the history of farming (of which most modern folks are woefully ignorant), and hefty insight into, and charity toward, human nature. — Linda Hasselstrom

Jones succeeds in making Nebraska in the 1950s seem exotic, even fascinating, definitely worth hearing about. — Noel Perrin

These are the fond reminiscences of a boyhood in small-town Nebraska in the early 1950s. It is a rambunctious life, la Tom and Huck, with Jones, the son of a Methodist minister, bolstering the stereotype of the preacher's kid as hell-raiser. Jones's charm lies in his ability to recount events from the perspective of a child with the droll humor of an adult. — Library Journal

In recent years the premature memoir of the young or floundering writer has established itself as a fledgling genre. While many of these hasty autobiographies seem of scant interest to anyone except the most dedicated literary groupie, Jones (The Farming Game) offers a collection of essays that recalls the youthful credulity of America in the '50s as much as it does his often hilarious, Huckleberry Finn-inspired misadventures. ... Jones's prose remains clear and energetic throughout. He's careful, as well, not to fall victim to cheap nostalgia. — Publishers Weekly

In this collection of "adventures," Bryan L Jones recounts his boyhood in the 1950s in small town western Nebraska. Though the title suggests a work of fiction, these adventures are apparently true. All are roughly life-shaped, but Jones combines his keen memory with a gift of dramatization and a wry wit to keep the narrative level well above that of the family vacation slide show.
The narrator ages from about eight to thirteen through this collection (luckily breaking off about the time testosterone really kicks in), and his voice alternates between that of an eight-year-old and that of a forty-eight-year-old. In one story, a classmate "produced so much mucus his folks should have installed two hoses from his nostrils directly into the nearest wastebasket." Another story is unabashedly nostalgic: after relating a friend's glorious victory in a track meet, Jones says, "He's out there somewhere, old and fat and bald, like the rest of us. But for me he'll always be pounding up to that finish line...The whole world was gold at that moment..."
The "young" voice is predominant, and it does not describe much of a Golden Age. The adventures are more a picturesque traipse through the carnival of isolated rural life; the 50s are Commie-haunted and polio-plagued. Religious instruction is dispensed with medieval earnestness; pedagogy involves more corporal than mental discipline. Freaks break the surface of these narratives like the snapping turtles in a barrel of buttermilk in one story. The characters are generally drawn as a boy sees them, as weird and alien examples of adult malformity. (Jones's father, a Methodist minister, seems the only truly good heart.) But the characters are drawn well; and whatever voice is used, whatever genre it belongs to, this is an engaging and good read. — Brian S Hook, Nebraska Life

Ultimately, kindness and sympathy prevail over shame and intolerance — largely due to the powerful forces of family and place in Mark Twain Made Me Do It and Other Plains Adventures. And the power of love for what Jones calls the "clan" and affection for the place called Nebraska and the people he shared it with. If warm nostalgia and the resulting affectionate wisdom can occasionally become the witty overwriting of ironic detachment, little damage is done to the memories themselves. When we both love and lament the plain adventures of our long-ago lives, whether in reading or writing them, perhaps we see more truly how those endless "green afternoons" of our youth so pleasingly evoked here prepared us for the gray evenings of adulthood. And maybe even for the dark nights that will surely follow. — Bill Cosgrove, Nebraska Territory


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