This is a collection of creative non-fiction essays by John McPhee, who seems like he has been something of an institution for a long time, even though it feels like he’s in some kind of retirement now. But with writers, they might always write something new.
This collection has five pieces, with the title piece carrying a heavy load (ha!) of the first 80 pages (1/3) of the book and the other pieces considerably shorter in general.
The opening essay involves John McPhee working with New York farmers as they sell their goods in open air farmer’s markets in the New York metro area, spending some special focus on Brooklyn and Harlem markets. The concept of “Giving Good Weight” is weighing honestly if not a little generously, using analog scales, and providing fair prices for the produce. You learn very quickly that many of the people who show up at these markets tend to be a little….fastidious if not downright weird, and are especially persistent in getting good weight for their selections. The essay also spends a lot of time in conversation with the farmers who are often driving several hours a day to multiple markets, and dealing with some very difficult circumstances including being accused of being cheap and cheating people, pickpockets in the crowd, and other hazards. More than anything the style here stands out. Very little exposition is given for what is, and less context. Instead, the style is jumping right in, almost without ego of the narrator, as what happens happens.
The other essays are not really connected to a main theme here, but represent the time period. There’s an essay about floating nuclear rigs, about pinball, and other topics.