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Michael Perry, "Montaigne in Barn Boots"
Michael Perry—humorist, radio host, songwriter, New York Times bestselling author, and intermittent pig farmer—discovered the great French essayist Michel de Montaigne courtesy of a kidney stone. After passing “the Devil’s own gobstopper,” Perry—volunteer firefighter, chronicler of contemporary rural life, and dubbed “the real thing” by USA Today—began researching renal calculi and discovered that Montaigne—the16th century inventor of the essay form—had documented his own kidney stone experience. From this oddball introduction, Perry plunged headlong into the works of Montaigne. The raw, vulnerable, and hilarious result is MONTAIGNE IN BARN BOOTS: An Amateur Ambles through Philosophy (Harper; November 7, 2017; $25.99).
Doffing his cap to true scholars (“the desire to write about Montaigne puts me in heavy traffic on a tricycle”) Perry likens his approach to that of the chickens on his Wisconsin farm, pecking willy-nilly, and sometimes “trying to gag down a knob of gristle thrice the caliber of its gullet,” but—in the spirit of Montaigne himself—always emphasizing exploration over declaration. As he applies the Frenchman’s methods and wisdom to his own contemporary thoughts on marriage, parenthood, faith, shame, citizenship and, yes, kidney stones, Perry is amused by the kinship he feels for a man who died four centuries ago:
Based on our backgrounds, I wouldn’t expect to find much in common with Michel de Montaigne. He is permanently deceased in France and I am temporarily alive in Wisconsin. He was a nobleman born to nobility; I was born to a paper mill worker and a nurse. He was privately tutored in Latin from the age of two and enrolled in the University of Toulouse to study law when he was fourteen; I matriculated as a barn-booted bumpkin who still marks a second-place finish in the sixth-grade spelling bee as an intellectual pinnacle.
With humor and humility, Perry examines Montaigne in a variety of contexts: demolition derbies, intersections of race and class, depression and anxiety, sex hang-ups, political tribalism, Twitter, profanity, concussions, flatulence, neck tattoos—always looking to Montaigne for clues on how to best live as we move “both toward perfection and decay.”
About the Author: Michael Perry’s bestselling memoirs include Population 485, Truck: A Love Story, Coop, and Visiting Tom. His novel The Jesus Cow was published in 2015. Raised on a small Midwestern dairy farm, Perry put himself through nursing school while working on a ranch in Wyoming, then wound up writing by happy accident. He lives with his wife and two daughters in rural Wisconsin, where he serves on the local volunteer fire and rescue service. He hosts the nationally-syndicated “Tent Show Radio,” performs widely as a humorist, and tours with his band the Long Beds. He can be found online at www.sneezingcow.com.