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'United States of Americana,' Kurt B. Reighley

Hipsters with mustaches? Same old, same old.

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United States of Americana author Kurt B. Reighley
  • United States of Americana author Kurt B. Reighley

I've seen a man about replacing my sole. I want to shave with a straight razor. This spring, I built my own garden beds and watched the four fruit trees I planted in my backyard blossom. So, yeah, this book called out to me.

Still, while reading it, I kept thinking of new titles for this slim volume: “The Hipster’s Guide to Living Pretentiously” or “The Old Farmer’s Almanac of Stuff White People Like.”

Seriously. Do I really care about hardtack? Or sleeve garters?

(Actually, kinda. Hardtack, we’re told, is an “extremely thick cracker, made from flour, water, and occasionally salt … favored by seafarers.” And sleeve garters are those armbands you see bartenders wearing in Old West movies, to help them keep their sleeves up in the days when all sleeves were made extra-long, one size fits all.)

OK, fine. There are some really interesting bits in here. We’ve got spats and Wellingtons. Dirigibles and vinyl records. Mustache curlers.

But Kurt B. Reighley attempts to weave this modern obsession with old ways into what part of his subtitle calls “A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement.”

To buttress this claim, he cites all the chicken farmers in Brooklyn, the mixologists in Seattle exchanging homemade bitters, and some celebrity butchers. And he quotes them puffing themselves up to convince us.

“People want to have real, genuine, authentic things,” says someone who works at a company that has made boots for more than a century. “The throwaway society is going to go away — or be greatly diminished.”

Mighty big claim. Yet in this plastic age, could Reighley be onto something? Has the Great Recession ushered in an age of austerity and living within our means — or even well below our means? Will I ever darn my socks, or is this guy blowing smoke up my nostalgic butt?

“Many Americans feel something vital is missing from their lives,” Reighley writes. “What do you do when you lose something important, like your house keys? You retrace your steps. You scrutinize the past to solve a problem in the present. That’s not indulging in nostalgia. That’s common sense.”

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