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Noodling for Flatheads

Moonshine, Monster Catfish, and Other Southern Com

The Old South is slow to give up its secrets. Though satellite dishes outnumber banjo players a thousand to one, most traditions haven't died; they've just gone into hiding. Cockfighting is illegal in forty-eight states, yet there are three national cockfighting magazines and cockpits in even the most tranquil communities. Homemade liquor has been outlawed for more than a century, yet moonshiners in Virginia still ship nearly one million gallons a year. Some of these pastimes are ancient, others ultramodern; some are illegal, others merely obscure. But the people who practice them share an undeniable kinship. Instead of wealth, promotion, or a few seconds of prime time, they follow dreams that lead them ever deeper underground. They are reminders, ultimately, that American culture isn't as predictable as it seems-that the weeds growing between its cracks are its most vital signs of life.
In these masterfully crafted essays, Burkhard Bilger explores the history and practice of eight such clandestine worlds. Like John McPhee and Ian Frazier, he introduces us to people whose spirit of individualism keeps traditions alive, from a fifty-something female coon hunter who spends 340 nights a year in the woods to a visionary frog farmer and a man whose arms are scarred by the eighty-pound catfish he catches by hand. A fluid combination of adventure, history, and humor, Noodling for Flatheads is evocative, intelligent, and wonder-fully weird-a splendid antidote to the sameness of today's popular culture.

Ted Lee The New York Times A collection of powerful essays...[Bilger's] lyrical narratives thrum with energy and affection.

Jonathan Yardley The Washington Post Smart, clear-eyed, witty, and unsentimental, not to mention quite agreeably surprising.

Newsweek Meticulous reporting and graceful writing -- with zero condescension.

E. Andra Whitworth The New York Times Book Review A rare and sometimes surprising glimpse of the American backwoods... Bilger's folksy descriptions of these eccentric pursuits are charming.

Caroline Fraser Outside A fascinating look into rural America's intimate, uneasy relationship with the animal life that surrounds it -- both wild and domesticated.