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The New York Times bestselling author of Population 485, Visiting Tom, and The Jesus Cow reflects on the lessons he’s learned from his unlikely alter ego, French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne.
I recently tested an electrified pig fencer by grabbing it with my bare hands. As the fibrillations dispersed, I regarded the unit—now pulsing in the grass some fifteen feet distant, where it landed after I spastically flung it—dumbly, then resolved to take the rest of the afternoon off and curl up with the late Michel de Montaigne’s essay, “Of the Inconsistency of Our Actions.”
Reading the philosopher in a manner he equates to chickens pecking at scraps (including those eye-blinking moments when the bird gobbles something too big to swallow) Perry attempts to learn what he can (good and bad) about himself as compared to a long-dead French nobleman who began speaking Latin at the age of two, went to college instead of kindergarten, worked for kings, and once had an audience with the Pope–whereas Perry “matriculated a barn-booted bumpkin who still marks a second-place finish in the sixth-grade spelling bee as an intellectual pinnacle and once said hello to Merle Haggard on a golf cart.” Written in a spirit of exploration rather than declaration, Montaigne in Barn Boots is a down-to-earth (how do you pronounce that last name?) look into the ideas of a philosopher “ensconced in a castle tower overlooking his vineyard,” channeled by a Midwestern American writing “in a room above the garage overlooking a disused pig pen.” Whether grabbing an electrified fencer, fighting fires, failing to fix a truck, or feeding chickens, Perry draws on each experience to explore subjects as diverse as faith, marriage, race, sex, aromatherapy and Prince. But he also champions academics and aesthetics in a book that ultimately emerges as a sincere, unflinching look at the vital need to be a better person and citizen.